Bill & Ted Face the Music
Arriving almost 30 years after the last 'Bill & Ted' movie, this fittingly silly and heartwarmingly sweet comedy definitely isn't bogus.
September 14, 2020
When it comes to goofy and sweet movie concepts handled with sincerity, the Bill & Ted franchise has always proven most triumphant. In 1989's Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, the big-screen comedy series introduced the world to Californian high schoolers Bill S Preston, Esq (Alex Winter) and Ted 'Theodore' Logan (Keanu Reeves), who are apparently destined to write the rock song that unites the universe — if they can first pass their history exam by travelling back in time in a phone booth to recruit famed past figures like Beethoven and Socrates to help, that is. The idea that Bill & Ted's affable, air guitar-playing slackers would become the world's salvation was a joke that the film itself was in on, and the movie struck the right balance of silliness, earnestness and affection as a result. So, the end product was joyous. How could a flick that makes the absolute most of Reeves exclaiming "whoa!" multiple times, tasks its titular characters with spreading a message of kindness and sends Napoleon to a water park called Waterloo be anything but giddy fun?
Actually, Excellent Adventure was something else: the reason that 1991's even loopier but still entertaining Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey exists, complete with evil robot versions of the eponymous duo and Twister games with Death (William Sadler) in hell. Now, almost three decades after that first sequel, the franchise has spawned a third entry — and Bill & Ted Face the Music delivers yet another dose of warm-hearted lunacy. Bill (Winter) and Ted (Reeves) are back, obviously. They're older, definitely not wiser, and yet again take a few leaps through time. The fate of life as everyone knows it is still at stake, of course. And, as always, the loveable pair's clear motto — "be excellent to each other" — is pivotal.
Bogus Journey told viewers that Wyld Stallyns, Bill and Ted's band, would achieve the success that futuristic emissary Rufus (George Carlin) had promised since the beginning of Excellent Adventure. When Face the Music returns to the duo, they've enjoyed the spoils of fame and subsequently crashed back into obscurity, gigs on cheap taco night, and combining a theremin with throat singing in the world's least romantic wedding song. Settled into suburban San Dimas life with their wives and children — medieval princesses Joanna (Glee's Jayma Mays) and Elizabeth (Medical Police's Erinn Hayes), and chip-off-the-old-block daughters Theadora (Ready or Not's Samara Weaving) and Wilhelmina (Atypical's Brigette Lundy-Paine) — they're still certain they'll write the tune the changes the future. Well, they're still trying to. But when they're given a 77-minute deadline by Rufus' daughter Kelly (The Last Man on Earth's Kristen Schaal), Bill and Ted decide to jump forward and steal the fabled track from themselves after they've already penned it.
There's a purposeful sense of familiarity to Face the Music's main plot; watching Bill and Ted hurtle through time is what this franchise is all about, after all. Teaming up with director Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest), returning original writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon triple down on the setup, however, with Thea and Billie also leaping through history — and their unhappy mothers, who can't quite convince Bill and Ted not to be so codependent, similarly riding the circuits of time on their own trip. Layering all of the above gives Face the Music an overt excuse to rehash many of the franchise's beloved aspects, including bringing Bill and Ted face to face with themselves again and again, and sending the younger B and T on a mission to collect music icons like Mozart, Jimi Hendrix and King Cudi. And yet, while anyone who has seen Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey will spot the easy nods — even extending to a new robot (Barry's Anthony Carrigan) sent to foil the current plans — Face the Music isn't merely trying to relive past glories.
In fact, the very idea that some dreams don't come true — or, to the benefit of everyone, they evolve and get passed along — sits at the core of this tender and loving movie. That's its best feature, and it's far from bogus. Naturally, it's a delight to see Winter and Reeves reprise their roles. They step back into Bill and Ted's shoes with ease, expertly conveying the characters' lingering immaturity, middle-aged malaise and ever-present kindness. They're also clearly having a blast as different versions of the duo, and their enthusiasm is infectious. As the next generation, both Weaving and Lundy-Paine are spot-on as well (the latter couldn't channel late 80s/early 90s-era Keanu more convincingly), while Carrigan steals every scene he's in. But without thoughtfully pondering what it truly means to be excellent to each other, showing that in action and demonstrating the impact that pulling together communally can have, Face the Music could've felt like it was just strumming the same hit notes again.
They're also known for spouting "party on!" with frequency, but Bill and Ted's most famous catchphrase has never simply served up empty words. No one can escape the straightforward piece of advice, because "be excellent to each other" is uttered often, but it also means something. Indeed, Bill and Ted approached their lives with goodwill and consideration back in Excellent Adventure as a method of coping with their troubles — with the former's sleazy dad marrying one of their classmates, and the latter's stern father constantly threatening him with military school — and, here, they continue to illustrate the merits of their optimistic and warm mindset. It's no wonder, then, that Face the Music feels like such a nice hug of a movie. It's silly, because that's a given. It relies upon a template, but knows how to twist it in new directions. It occasionally feels repetitive, and a tad unintentionally chaotic. The heartfelt happiness it brings, though, is 100-percent excellent.