At a time when the world around us often feels dark and heartless, there’s something wonderfully optimistic about the slacker heroes of Bill & Ted Face the Music.
First introduced in 1989’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Bill S. Preston and Ted “Theodore’” Logan made their big-screen debut in a year when Michael Keaton’s Batman and Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones topped the box office. The chemistry of Bill & Ted co-stars Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, combined with their cleverly quotable, surfer-meets-metalhead dialogue, turned their low-budget, sci-fi comedy one of the year’s surprise hits. A multimedia franchise followed, and it was — to borrow one of Bill and Ted’s favorite descriptors — a most excellent run for two of the most unlikely saviors of the universe.
This week, that saga continues after a 30-year hiatus with Bill & Ted Face the Music, a film that proves its titular characters’ appeal really is timeless.
Directed by Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) from a script penned by franchise screenwriters Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, Bill & Ted Face the Music finds the titular pals mired in middle age, struggling to live up to their destiny.
The film is set several decades after the events of 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, and follows Bill and Ted as they attempt to balance the demands of their destiny with their marriages, suburban lives, and parenthood. When the fabric of reality begins to fray around them, they’re forced to face the music both literally and figuratively, and end up on yet another journey through time as they attempt to steal the most important song ever written from the only people who know it: Their future selves.
Return of the Wyld Stallyns
In the 10 years since Bill & Ted Face the Music was first announced, one of the recurring concerns regarding the project has involved Reeves and Winter’s ability to return to their endearingly dimwitted alter egos.
Much of Winter’s work in recent years has been behind the camera on critically acclaimed documentaries like Deep Web and Downloaded, while Reeves is everywhere you look these days due to his portrayal of elite assassin John Wick and an impending return to The Matrix franchise. Until Face the Music came along, both actors had seemingly put their days of high-fiving, air-guitaring, and being able to pull off lines like, “We’re in danger of flunking most heinously tomorrow, Ted” well behind them.
To their credit, neither Reeves nor Winter seem to have much trouble jumping back into character in Face the Music, and a performance that could have felt as phony as Steve Buscemi pretending to be a teenager ends up being surprisingly sincere.
Fair warning, though: The pair’s surfer slang peppered with dictionary deep-dives can take some time to adjust to — particularly if it’s been a while since you’ve watched the prior films. However, once you’re fully immersed in it, Reeves and Winter’s performance manages to feel just as poetically goofy as it did 30 years ago.
Unfortunately, Bill & Ted Face the Music isn’t nearly as strong when its focus shifts away from its titular heroes.
Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine do an admirable job of carrying the torch as Bill and Ted’s music-loving children, Theodora “Thea” Preston and Wilhelmina “Billie” Logan, respectively. Their love for their fathers makes for some unexpectedly heartfelt moments, but their chemistry with each other never quite reaches the same level as Bill and Ted’s effortless charm.
With the exception of William Sadler’s return as Death, who’s almost as entertaining as Bill and Ted in the film, much of the film’s supporting cast feels like an afterthought in the overall story. Even the historical figures the protagonists recruit along the way never quite measure up to their counterparts in Excellent Adventure or Bogus Journey and feel too tacked-on to care about in the end.
That’s especially true for the film’s de facto villain, a murderous cyborg sent through time to eliminate Bill and Ted. Barry actor Anthony Carrigan does the best he can with the role, but the character’s arc feels entirely unnecessary in the story at best, and at worst, narrative dead weight.
Given the nostalgic value the original Bill & Ted films have accrued over the years, it’s easy to forget some of their flaws. For better or worse, Face the Music serves as a reminder.
The first two films in the franchise were propelled along a series of silly encounters by Reeves and Winter’s boundless energy and charisma. Their pairing was the glue that held all of the loosely arranged scenes together, and that continues in Face the Music.
Sure, the film’s veteran stars don’t move with quite as much pep as they did three decades ago, but the sincerity of their characters’ friendship and desire to do the right thing makes the messy bits entirely forgivable.
Bill and Ted have come a long way since they first stepped into their time-traveling phone booth, and Face the Music puts a fantastic spin on existential crises we all face.
The film has them ostensibly racing to save reality, but it’s their wives, their children, and their friendship that end up making reality worth saving. That’s a powerfully resonant message for a film franchise that once had its two main characters escape death by giving the grim reaper a wedgie, and it’s not the only introspective, self-aware aspect of the duo’s latest adventure.
Laughs have always come easy in Bill and Ted’s adventures — and continue to be plentiful in Face the Music — but for those who grew up with the original films and have a nostalgic connection to Bill and Ted, the emotional beats of Face the Music will likely hit a bit closer to home.
Much like its predecessors in the franchise, Bill & Ted Face the Music isn’t a perfect film, but it doesn’t need to be. At its heart, the Bill & Ted franchise has always served as a good reminder that if two dimwitted friends like Bill S. Preston and Ted “Theodore” Logan can save the universe, anyone can do the right thing — and you don’t need to be perfect to be excellent to each other.
That’s the sort of timeless message we could all benefit from hearing these days, and makes Bill & Ted Face the Music a movie well worth the wait.
Directed by Dean Parisot and starring Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter, Bill & Ted Face the Music premieres August 28 in theaters and via on-demand video.