Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | August 27th, 2020
Bill & Ted Face the Music (Dean Parisot, 2020) 2 out of 4 stars.
For what seems like a cinematic eternity, Keanu Reeves has barely seemed to age, initially slouching from slacker roles in the Bill & Ted films and Parenthood to his great leap into the action arena with movies like Point Break, Speed and his ultimate crowning as the one to be reckoned with in The Matrix. Today, he is still very much at it in the John Wick series. Though hardly an actor of enormous range, he has genuine star power, easily able to command our attention, no matter the role. It’s a little shocking, therefore, to see the wrinkles finally showing in his latest screen appearance, Bill & Ted Face the Music (or “Bill & Ted 3”), though that is due, no doubt, to the copious amount of foundation makeup laid on him and costar Alex Winter as they reprise their 29-year-old parts. Winter, now an accomplished film director (The Panama Papers, Showbiz Kids), has been much less in the public eye since that era, so whatever aging he has undergone surprises less. Still, why not let the two just be middle-aged, as they are, without the failed gloss-over?
That’s just one of many things that do not quite work in this third and, we hope, final installment in the goofy, genial series that began in 1988. Part 2, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, came out in 1991, and though it appeared to resolve its narrative, where there’s a mercenary will there’s a way to make money, and so here we are. Given that neither the first nor second installments were anything approaching artistic masterpieces – not even comic ones, though they were filled with many a solid chuckle – it is fair to say that Bill & Ted Face the Music often delivers on the promises of its predecessors. Since they promised fairly little, however, that’s not saying much. Still, if you’ve missed these guys all this time, you’ll most likely feel at least some happy thoughts as you watch them fumble their way towards enlightenment.
It’s 25 years later, and despite what we saw happen at the end of Bogus Journey, Bill (Winter) and Ted (Reeves) have failed to write the song that, according to the folks from the year 2688 – as represented by the late Rufus (the late George Carlin) – would unite the world in harmony, allowing for a utopian society to be built. Now, it seems, as the time-space continuum folds in on itself to increasingly disastrous results, they have but a few hours in which to do what they have yet to do this past quarter-century. What they have succeeded in, however, is raising two daughters, each one named after the opposite parent (so Ted’s daughter is “Billie,” and Bill’s, “Thea”), and each just as clueless. The kids adore their fathers, the wives (those princesses from medieval England) less so. As domestic and existential crises mount, with the fate of all life in their hands, will Bill & Ted once again pull out a win? With time of the essence, it will, indeed, tell.
There are some simultaneously delightful and moronic plot twists that send Thea and Billie into the past to recruit musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, Mozart and others to help out, while vaulting their namesakes into the future, first to the early 28th century and then to visit their subsequent selves at various intervals, desperate to get the secret to their mysterious hit song from the Bill and Ted who have hopefully composed it already. Combining those elements (straight out of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) with ones from Bogus Journey, we revisit the depths of hell, meeting up with our old friend Death again, once more played by William Sadler (VFW), a welcome addition to any project. Though the special effects are notably better than they were back in the day, the entire enterprise feels otherwise very old-school, including in it’s Western-centric approach to culture and music. At least the guys don’t recoil in horror when they get too close and yell “fag” anymore. We’ve moved beyond that, anyway.
Samara Weaving (Netflix’s Hollywood) and Brigette Lundy-Paine (Action Point), as Thea and Billie, bring some welcome new energy to the mix, and Reeves and Winter, themselves, do shine in certain outrageous sequences. Amy Stoch returns as Missy, Bill and Ted’s former older schoolmate turned stepmom to each and now, in an amusing twist, Ted’s new sister-in-law, marrying as she does his younger brother Deacon (Saturday Night Live‘s Beck Bennett, in a small cameo). Hal Landon Jr., as Ted’s dad, now Chief of Police, is back, as well, rounding out the returning cast. In all, it’s a pleasant enough reunion, if nothing extraordinary, matched in its droll harmlessness by the uninspiring melody, towards which everyone has been struggling so mightily, that we finally hear at the end. That’s it? I guess it could have been worse.