This Bill & Ted Face the Music review is spoiler-free. Excellent.
Both Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey reside in that unique cinematic grey area somewhere between blockbuster and cult classic. It’s a sweet spot that these characters — created by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, who return to write this third outing — have inhabited for over thirty years, with the second movie hitting theaters way back in 1991. While the height of Bill & Ted-mania was in an era when grunge when was just getting warmed up (and thereby making the leads’ rock/metal-worship feel quaint), the films maintained a not-unsubstantial pop culture footprint that was eventually overshadowed by Keanu Reeves’ ascent into superstardom. To be clear though: Reeves never turned his back on Ted. Over the years he maintained a friendship with Alex Winter — it is beyond satisfying to know that Bill & Ted are close in real life — and regularly spoke about the possibilities of bringing Ted “Theodore” Logan back to the big screen.
Through a combination of Reeves’ clout and perseverance on the part of the cast and the creative team, a third Bill & Ted movie was crafted over the course of the decade. So, the major question going into Bill & Ted Face the Music is do these lovable dudes still have any appeal in 2020?
The answer to that query is, you guessed it, a most excellent one.
You see, Bill & Ted Face the Music is a bodacious conclusion to the story of these characters (albeit one that welcomely sets the stage for a passing of the torch to the next generation). More than that? It’s a sublimely crafted midlife crisis movie that touched me more than similarly themed works by Noah Baumbach ever could.
No, really. This movie is far more relatable than Marriage Story, even with all the time-displacement.
The film’s at times overly complex plot involves the future destroying itself because Bill and Ted have yet to write the song that Rufus (a much-missed George Carlin) told them would unite humanity. A quick info dump at the start of this movie addresses how after the most triumphant end of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, the pair and their Wyld Stallyns (which includes Death, again played here with scene-stealing glee by William Sadler) petered out following the success of their hit single “Those Who Rock.” In true Behind the Music fashion, breakups and lawsuits followed, and Wyld Stallyns were back to playing in their basements and Elks Lodge…forever searching for the song they are destined to write.
The fact that they continue to fail miserably at doing so gives the movie’s first fifteen minutes most of its comedic heft, until the plot begins to complicate itself, veering off into unexpected tangents. Rufus’ daughter Kelly (Kristen Schall of Bob’s Burgers and Flight of the Conchords fame) arrives from the future to tell Bill and Ted that their song needs to be written within hours otherwise not only will humanity be destroyed but the universe as well. (Time displacements are occurring throughout the world, resulting in Babe Ruth being transported back to the American revolution, among more chronological chaos). This discovery adds to the already tense marital relationships that Bill and Ted have with their wives Joanna (Jayma Mays) and Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes), the princesses they rescued back in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and whom are increasingly tired of their husbands acting like a unit instead of individuals.
This isn’t an issue that Bill and Ted’s daughters Thea (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy Paine) have. Thea and Billie are devoted to their fathers entirely, offering them constant support as they write clunker after clunker. The characters are the breakout stars of Bill & Ted Face the Music, giving the film an emotional center for viewers to latch on to. Not to mention inspired casting, Weaving and Paine do an outstanding job of incorporating personality traits of Bill and Ted into their own performance in a master class in comedic subtlety.
And so begins a time-hopping adventure in which Bill and Ted, in true them style, attempt to steal the galaxy-saving song from future iterations of themselves. Among the Bill and Ted variations they encounter are imprisoned versions of themselves and elderly Bill and Teds whom are living together in a nursing home. (Maybe it’s just a byproduct of living in the uncertainty of 2020, but knowing that these two friends grow old together left me feeling profoundly moved). While Bill and Ted are squaring off against goofball future versions of themselves, their daughters borrow Kelly’s time machine to travel to the past to build a backing band for their dads that includes Jimi Hendrix (DazMann Still), Louis Armstrong (Jeremiah Craft) and Kid Cudi, who portrays himself in an extended cameo that elicits huge laughs.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Bill & Ted Face the Music is that is might be a bit too ambitious for its own good. There are moments of inspired lunacy here, especially involving Dennis, a murderous robot from the future portrayed by Anthony Carrigan, that I wish had more time to be explored. (The same can be said for Beck Bennett, Holland Taylor and Jillian Bell’s underutilized characters). But the lack of screen time for these actors combined with a truncated subplot involving Joanna and Elizabeth being transported through time by their own future selves indicates the the film might have been better served by a longer runtime than its tight 92 minutes. Fingers crossed for an extended Blu-ray edition.
The Bill & Ted films have always been way smarter than they were given credit for: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure subverted cliched teen comedy tropes, and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was unafraid to get incredibly strange and existential. While not surprised by the flourishes of sadness in a movie that is, at its very core, a film about unfulfilled potential, I was surprised by how director Dean Parsiot (Galaxy Quest) allowed these moments to breathe amid all the comedy.
The third act brings all of our characters’ storylines together in a decidedly non-bogus way, and even manages to take a detour to hell, the exact context of which I dare not spoil here. It is all incredibly satisfying, made even more so by Winter and Reeves’ now-nuanced take on Bill and Ted. (Yes, they are both excellent). It would be a bummer, dude, to see the characters acting they same way they were when they were in high school. The new Bill and Ted have been through the ringer — haven’t we all — but the fact that they delivered another excellent adventure after all this time, and one that actually has impactful things to say about legacy and aging, is a major achievement. Bill & Ted Face the Music is a triumph of comedic storytelling that proves that you can’t party on forever, but you don’t have to abandon your dreams either.