A film review by Craig J. Koban September 5, 2020

BILL AND TED FACE THE MUSIC jjj

2020, PG-13, 91 mins.

Keanu Reeves as Ted Logan  /  Alex Winter as Bill S. Preston  /  William Sadler as Death  /  Samara Weaving as Thea Preston  /  Brigette Lundy-Paine as Billie Logan  /  Kid Cudi as Kid Cudi  /  Jayma Mays as Princess Joanna  /  Kristen Schaal as Kelly  /  Holland Taylor as The Great Leader  /  Jillian Bell as Dr. Taylor Wood

Directed by Dean Parisot  /  Written by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon

There's a sly moment in BILL AND TED FACE THE MUSIC that pitch perfectly encapsulates the easy going vibe of its titular characters as well as the infectiously silly tone of this decades spanning series as a whole. 

It occurs during a pivotal scene when the now mid-fiftysomething Ted "Theodore" Logan (Keanu Reeves) and Bill S. Preston (Alex Winter) are faced with an insurmountable challenge that forces them into a decision that they fear will hurt their band's (Wyld Stallyns) reputation:  

"Think about our fans, dude!" Bill proclaims, to which Ted quietly deadpans, "Bob and Wendy will understand." 

This is just one example of the thanklessly clever and hysterical writing that permeates this long gestating in development third film in the series, which, yes, comes an awfully long time after (nearly thirty years) the release of 1991's BILL AND TED'S BOGUS JOURNEY (still one of the more insanely crafty sequels ever made), which followed the franchise introductory chapter in 1989's BILL AND TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE.  The first two films were an indelible facet of my childhood and adolescent moviegoing as they introduced me to a pair of likeably dimwitted San Dimas, California residing BFFs that found themselves time traveling to the past as well as making memorable pit stops in heaven and hell.  Waiting so terribly long for a trilogy closer places BILL AND TED FACE THE MUSIC in a highly unenviable position, but I was pleasantly surprised by how it maintained the initial entries' sense of wholesome, frivolous fun and the sugary sweet natured core relationship between the two most bodacious ones leading the charge.  Best of all, it represents a difficult to attain level of fan servicing in terms of placating audience's nostalgic memories of the past cult installments while not just lazily rehashing them for the purposes a cheap cash grab.  You truly gain a sense that everyone in front of and behind the camera genuinely wanted this film made. 

Bill and Ted, for series newbies, have long since been deemed as "chosen ones" that have been anointed with creating and performing music that would end up promoting an unheard of era of world peace and harmony in the future (that's a really heavy burden to place on anyone's shoulders).  BILL AND TED FACE THE MUSIC seems like a logical extension of the events of the first two films, but this time we are re-introduced to the pair as they're are just a ten-plus years away from approaching senior citizenship.  They look a lot older, but they still remain as childishly clueless as ever.  However, the former hard rocker-wannabes have hit hard times.  Not only have they not come up with the much prophesied song destined to change the world, but they've fallen from performance grace so horribly that they're now reduced to taking gigs at weddings, which is shown in a cheeky opening scene that features the nuptials of one character from the series that became a running gag for the amusingly nonsensical manner that she kept marrying and divorcing key members of Bill and Ted's family.  That, and watching Reeves' Ted bust out a Theremin is a giddy delight in itself.  

At least the duo are still happily married to their "historical babes" in the medieval princesses that they had a very strange meet cute with back in the first film...right?  Wrong.  It appears that their marriages are on the verge of meltdown as well, which leads to another side-splitting early sequence involving all four of them attending couples therapy together...at the same time.  Of course, Bill and Ted are so naive that they assume that they all should attend, because, as Bill states, "We're a couple of couples, right?"  After counseling goes horribly, Bill and Ted seem to feel the toll of not becoming the world saviors they were destined to be, but at this point destiny steps in with the appearance of a visitor from the future, Kelly (Kristen Schaal), daughter to George Carlin's Rufus, who gives the melancholic misfits an ultimatum: They have until 7:17pm that night to get that song out, or the whole universe will implode on itself.  

 

 

In pure Ted-ian fashion, he response with, "Wait...what?!"  

He's not alone. 

There's one big problem that taints Bill and Ted's newest most excellent mission: They'are still not talented enough to concoct this non-heinous song in the present, so they decide to time travel and steal it from their future and successful selves, because by Bill's estimation it's "Not stealing if we steal it from ourselves, dude."  This leads to some of the film's most bizarrely funny moments involving, at one point, Bill and Ted meeting up with versions of their "future usses" that are overbearing rock gods sporting egregiously fake English accents or, in a later scene, them coming in contact with another version of their future selves, only this time they're roided up prison scum.  Oh, and concurrent to this is the subplot involving Bill and Ted's two daughters (the pitch perfectly cast Samara Weaving and Bridget Lundy-Paine) who commandeer that famous temporal shifting phone booth that their dads once used decades ago to journey back to the past and nab some historical musicians to help craft the song to end all songs.  I won't spoil who they pick up, other than to say that they range from Louis Armstrong to a prehistoric cave dweller that plays a mean set of archaic looking drums. 

Absolutely true to franchise form, BILL AND TED FACE THE MUSIC is a deliriously strange and wacky film, which probably stems from the fact that original series creators and screenwriters in Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson once again pen this delightfully oddball material.  In a highly appreciated move, the writing tandem doesn't attempt to re-evaluate or re-tool their cult characters for modern day consumption, nor do they simply throw them into overtly familiar plot beats and machinations (or, should I say mecha-STATIONS?).  The core appeal of Bill and Ted remains completely intact: They're still sweet natured simpletons that are trying - even all these years later - to find their creative mojo and place in the world, and they still do so with a breezy, nonchalant vibe.  Hell, even with the threat of complete universal devastation and the end of reality as we know it, these guys still maintain a cheerful optimism and try to be excellent to each other...and others.  Plus, the spirited conceptual innovation of what has come before emerges again here, with Solomon and Matheson trying to find newfangled ways of giving us what we want without spoon feeding us stale series leftovers.   

But, to be fair, this plot still involves time travel, journeying into the past to bring crucial historical personages back to the present, and a pit-stop (don't ask the hows and whys) back to hell, where Bill and Ted have a chance hook-up with their old band mate in Death (William Sadler, still as riotous as ever in this role).  When we last met up with the Grim Reaper he was - after losing multiple games of skill to Bill and Ted in hell after their deaths - a regular member of Wyld Stallyns, but there was a massive creative falling out between them all, not to mention that Death couldn't come to grips with all of the critical hate he got for his aggressive bass solos.  He's a pathetic shell of his former self in this film (Bill and Ted find him living alone in hell and playing - and cheating - at games of hopscotch with himself).  Another Death-inspired character is also introduced here in a Terminator-esque killer robot from the future (Anthony Carrigan) that's been tasked with murdering Bill and Ted.  The screenplay pulls a wonderful 180 degree turn on this character later and reveals him to be a timid and neurotic artificial being named Denis that just wants to be hang out, be liked, and party. 

Man, who doesn't, these days? 

I also really liked the addition of Weaving and Lundy-Paine here too (the former was terrific in last year's criminally overlooked horror comedy READY OR NOT), and you'll absolutely believe during every second of this film that they're the offspring of Bill and Ted (Lundy-Paine in particular comes off like the second female coming of a youthful Reeves).  This brings me to these characters' dads, and BILL AND TED FACE THE MUSIC would have simply not worked at all and could have approached disaster proportions if Reeves and Winter (who have not appeared in a film together since, like, three U.S. presidents ago) were incapable of recapturing that ethereal lightning in a bottle chemistry again.  It's abundantly clear very early on that they still got it, and their genuine levels of palpable sincerity that they bring to these broad roles still remains an endearing hoot.  Most obviously, Reeves has attained an iconic stature in Hollywood in the subsequent years following the release of BILL AND TED'S BOGUS JOURNEY, but it sure is a treat to see him segue smoothly from his steely eyed serial killing assassin in JOHN WICK and back into the oblivious, but agreeable moron that is Ted.  Not many actors could pull that off.   

Not everything in BILL AND TED FACE THE MUSIC is as assured, though.  It's opening sections can be a bit rough around the edges, not to mention that this film's VFX seem unpolished at times.  And the script seems to lack a proper ending (it just, well, ends abruptly...and that's it).  But, whoa, this is such a continuously charming sequel that never wears out its welcome (it's a lean and trim 90 minutes) while wholeheartedly embracing its unique brand of wholesale ridiculousness.  Plus, this sequel - like its prequels before it - is so wonderfully void of any level of depressing cynicism.  It's a feel-good piece of well packaged comfort food without succumbing to the more pejorative aspects of such a descriptor.  This trilogy capper just filled my heart with so much unbridled warmth and happiness, something that we perhaps need more of in life right now during the pandemic...and in the movies in general.  In a most outstanding fashion, BILL AND TED FACE THE MUSIC is a worthy sequel that doesn't deserve to get thrown (ahem!) in  the iron maiden. 

That, and when I saw a brief, blink-or-you'll-miss-it moment involving Jesus himself joyously rocking a cowbell here then I knew that I was maybe watching the single greatest third film in trilogy history.   

Party on, dudes. 

  H O M E