With the dial of a phone in a booth, it’s clear Bill & Ted have returned, and it was far from a bogus experience. I strangely tend to get hung up on the notion of decades-later sequels to cult properties, and yet this one won me over. It’s odd, as I welcome some legacy sequels, let alone the franchise-based world that tends to suck up space from the smaller movies I’d love to see receive more attention. Meanwhile, the frequent threat of Beetlejuice 2 throws me off. Well, Bill & Ted Face the Music not only found a way to defy the odds to exist, but it also ended up working as an entry totally in line with the spirit of those older time travel tales that gave rise to Wyld Stallyns.
This time around, we catch up with a middle-aged Bill and Ted (Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves), who have been working on creating the song that will bring peace to the world for over two decades. While still married to former medieval princesses Joanna and Elizabeth (Jayma Mays and Erinn Hayes), and now with children of their own, Wilhelmina and Theodora (Brigette Lundy-Paine and Samara Weaving), Bill and Ted seem to be going nowhere. A sudden shift occurs when Kelly (Kristen Schaal), daughter of Rufus (the late George Carlin), arrives from the future to tell the guys they really need to step things up because the universe will end if they don’t finally create this song. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the guys only have 78 minutes to do it.
Written, once again, by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, the movie has a “the show must go on” vibe that feels well-suited. Despite the nearly 30-year time jump in between Bogus Journey and Face the Music, there’s a sense of understanding of what makes these films tick that does not feel lost in the translation. Namely, there’s a smart core surrounded by a knowing sense of humor that may present characters as aloof, if not a bit dim, but is never low-brow or mean. There’s not a mean bone in all of this series, and the sense of sweetness that continues to carry through means more to these films than people may realize.
Some fans seem to like associating Bill & Ted with stoner movies. I can’t attest to how people choose to watch these films, but that’s not what I see going on with these characters. They’ve always been good-natured guys who are a little on the slow side, but with the proper motivation and equipment, they can fully take on the tasks that have ranged from passing a history final to saving the world. And in all of this, you have Winter and Reeves doing what they need to sell these roles.
For this latest entry, you have them leaning into their age, but having fun with it. Without going too far into the surprises delivered in this story, we see a lot of variations of the guys, allowing for a lot of humorous “what ifs” to delve into, as they attempt to solve the problem of creating the ultimate, universe-saving song. Adding onto the cleverness of the script, there’s an element trying to recapture some of the magic of the original by way of what’s been set up from the film’s beginning: Bill and Ted’s daughters.
This high-spirited subplot has Billie and Thea using a time machine to help their dads by time traveling through history and picking up famous musicians to form the ultimate band. The places they end up going are fun and more evidence of just how witty the script actually is as far as how thought out the logic has to be to some degree. Even with a low budget (much like the original films), there’s plenty of creativity on display to make this plotline work, along with the shenanigans we watch the adult Bill and Ted get into, let alone the positive father-daughter theme that emerges.
If there’s one area in this breezy 90-minute film I would have liked to see more of, it’s the attempt to address the co-dependency Bill and Ted have on each other. While a funny scene involving couples therapy, featuring Jillian Bell as the therapist, keeps the concept on a gag-level, doing nothing to flesh out Joanna and Elizabeth as characters, let alone find a way to sort through Bill and Ted’s issues with doing anything separately, felt like a missed opportunity. I understand this is a Bill & Ted movie, and madcap time travel silliness is the main drive of this film, but the very introduction of this element at least made me aware Matheson and Solomon have had this on their mind to some degree.
That said, as far as being a straightforward comedy (filled with nonsensical quantum theory-based plotting, briefly explained by rapper Kid Cudi), Face the Music does know how to be funny. Perhaps not a film full of huge laugh moments, but there’s a charm here I was happy to pick up on. Some key interactions involving Reeves, Winters, and their other selves tend to play well, and there’s a character played by Barry’s Anthony Carrigan who manages to get some of the funniest moments of the film.
Also, for a film focused on how music can save the universe, I was quite pleased by the soundtrack. There’s a range of tunes here, but the big energy from it served the film well. Really, from a production perspective, director Dean Parisot stays out of his own way and does what is needed to bring these characters back to life, not ride too hard on the nostalgic aspect of things, and let the crucial moments play the way they should.
It’s less that I’m impressed with the film as a whole than I am with how much of a good look it is for a third Bill & Ted movie to play so innocently and competently. Everyone involved seems like they must have had a great time taking on this undertaking of delivering a film that’s seemingly been talked about in jest for years, but has now actually happened. I am just happy it kept a smile on my face throughout the runtime. Yes, it’s a silly film, and the style of humor seems fairly specific, especially given how old Winters and Reeves are. But like they say, if the music’s too loud, then you’re too old. For everyone else: party on, dudes.