Bill & Ted Face the Music, 2020.
Directed by Dean Parisot.
Starring Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, William Sadler, Kristen Schaal, Erinn Hayes, Jayma Mays, Holland Taylor, Jillian Bell, Amy Stoch and Hal Landon Jr.
After two decades of slacking, Bill and Ted are told they must write a song to unite all of humanity throughout time before the universe collapses in on itself.
There’s a lot of pressure on the shoulders of Bill and Ted. In this belated follow-up to 1991’s Bogus Journey, they have just 78 minutes to write a song that will “unite the world and save reality”. But even in the real world, Bill & Ted Face the Music has plenty of baggage to carry. Fans have been clamouring for the film, it has been in development for around a decade and it’s set to be one of the first major releases to emerge since the world’s citizens retreated to their homes in hiding from a potentially deadly disease. There’s enough slacker charm here to carry the fans through but, for those without an abiding love for the Wyld Stallyns, it’s most non-triumphant.
It has been almost 30 years since we last spent time with Bill S. Preston Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) and, when we left them, they were on top of the world. Sadly, their 15 minutes of fame were just that and they’re now middle-aged slackers debuting their utterly terrible “new sonic creation” – throat singing, bagpipes and a theremin are involved – at a wedding. They receive a visit from time-travelling messenger Kelly (Kristen Schaal), informing them the world is in their song-writing hands, and they decide to hop in the phone box and travel forward in time to steal the track from their future selves.
So far, so Bill and Ted, as the guys deliver their likeable repertoire of “dudes” and “whoas”, with Winter and Reeves dropping back into their characters as if they’ve been away 30 minutes rather than 30 years. They look like they’re having a blast. Meanwhile, the pair’s kids (played by Brigette Lundy-Paine and Ready or Not‘s Samara Weaving) travel through history picking up famous musicians – evoking, of course, 1989’s Excellent Adventure – to play the eventual song.
Without the simplicity of the first two movies, the time travel becomes overly complex and dilutes the stakes of what’s happening. With the pair’s wives (Erinn Hayes and Jayma Mays) also zipping around the circuits of time for some barely defined reason, you’d be forgiven for completely losing track. The previous movies were able to bask in the relaxing timbre of the dialogue, but Face the Music barely slows down for long enough to allow anybody to enjoy the return of William Sadler’s Grim Reaper or the late George Carlin’s Rufus, appearing via a nicely-deployed slice of archive footage.
There was a certain “little engine that could” charm to the first two movies that feels absent this time around given that Reeves is one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars and the franchise is a bona fide cult hit. The ramshackle charm doesn’t fly quite as well 30 years later and the multiple dangling threads leave too many unanswered questions. Screenwriters Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon are on typically strong form when they’re writing sparky dialogue between the two leads, but seem less sure-footed as the canvas expands into both the past and the future.
Perhaps inevitably, the film’s brief running time short-changes the supporting cast, with Weaving and Lundy-Paine in particular saddled with so much narrative lifting that there’s little to the characters rather than their slightly wobbly impressions of Reeves and Winter’s unique vocal stylings. A-list comedy talents like Jillian Bell and Kristen Schaal are also reduced to glorified cameos, while a baffling running gag involving the rapper Kid Cudi – playing himself – gets at least as much screen time as either of them.
Bill & Ted Face the Music is not a disaster by any means and devoted fans will definitely enjoy being back in the world of San Dimas. But there’s something a little naff that wafts through on the back of the usual charm. Much like the characters when we meet them at the beginning of the movie, this franchise has grown stale in its middle age and, shorn of its youthful freshness, it’s often a little bit – and I hate to say this – bogus.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.