Published on September 1st, 2020 | by Thomas Weinmaster0
Bill & Ted Face the Music
They talk for years about a sequel to a movie like Bill & Ted that you think will never happen, then blammo — one appears.
I’ve always been an ardent fan of the Bill & Ted movies. I first came to them on late night cable when I was twelve or thirteen, and have been rewatching and quoting them ever since. The signoff for every email I sent in my young life was the naive and hopeful refrain of “be excellent to each other,” and a poster of the titular heroes sat atop a flying phone booth adorned my bedroom wall. Something about the pair of relentlessly good-natured idiots in the title role continued to speak to me, even as I — and the world around me — grew far more cynical. That cynicism and dread took hold in my chest as rumours swirled for the past decade that a new chapter in the franchise was underway. In my mind, there was no way that Bill and Ted could be as innocent, as optimistic as before in our time of gritty, nihilistic storytelling. However, after my first viewing of Bill & Ted Face the Music, I am happy to report that the spirit of the Wyld Stallyns is still alive and well in this most non-heinous sequel, even thirty long years later.
Face the Music finds our heroes living in the suburbs with the princesses (first plucked from medieval times in the original films), and a pair of teenage daughters who emulate their fathers, for better and for worse. Bill and Ted have been coasting since the events of Bogus Journey, and have failed to write the music (prophesied by George Carlin’s Rufus) that will unite the world, and bring about the utopic future depicted in the first two films. They have released a series of increasingly irrelevant albums, and caused marital rifts with the princesses due to their inability to move on from their long-lost destinies. It all comes to a head when representatives from the future inform them that they have only a few hours to perform their foretold world-uniting song, lest the entire universe collapse in on itself. The pair decide that since they have no idea what that song might be, they will travel to the future to steal it from themselves. What follows is a blast through various run-ins with future versions of the duo, as their daughters sneak into the past to recruit history’s greatest musical superstars to back their fathers in their reality-altering performance.
Really though, a Bill and Ted movie isn’t so much about the sturdiness of the story as the characters that inhabit it, and that’s true here for Face the Music. The movie seems pretty jumpy, and I would bet that large sections were hacked off to meet its slight 92-minute run time.
A subplot involving the princesses travelling through time is opened, abandoned, then handwaved away with a single line in the climax. Make sure you don’t think too hard about the temporal rules of time travel, either. The original movies weren’t shortlisted for any screenwriting Oscars, and the same writers are back for Face the Music, which is nice to see regardless of the drawbacks.
The movie also looks a bit cheap, mainly because it is. A few of the special effects are janky and there’s some weird green screen, though one could argue that it adds a bit of the cartoonish quality the first films were known for with their matte paintings and weird prosthetics. Despite the issues, the visual and scripted callbacks to Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey — as well as a short posthumous cameo from George Carlin, among other returning characters, bring this movie firmly into line with the originals, without simply retreading the same formula. Most importantly though, our original heroes are back.
Even as they anchor the film, it’s a bit surreal to see Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter back in their title roles three decades later. Reeves is a bonafide megastar, and Alex Winter hasn’t acted in decades, so I was surprised to see him steal the show. He imbues Bill with the same heart and naivete that he showed in the first two films, and you can see why he wanted this movie to be made so badly. Reeves is a lot more muted, and at times surprisingly bland, especially when contrasted with his earlier performances as Ted. Perhaps his intervening career as a scowling action megastar has spoiled that innocence he showed so easily in his early acting career. Regardless, the chemistry between the two is still palpable, and their unfailing brotherly love kept me smiling.
Various other actors from the earlier films also make appearances, though the princesses have unfortunately been recast. William Sadler notably returns as Death, and slides back into the quirky reaper role with ease. However, the real stars of the show are the newly arrived Billie Logan (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Thea Preston (Samara Weaving). They have been indwelt with the spirits of their respective fathers and their slacker predilections. Lundy-Paine does an especially impressive job, and is arguably a better simulacrum of the original Ted than even Reeves himself. The pair take what could have been a lame B-plot or attempt at a franchise handoff, and pull the viewer in with their inspired performances. Lastly, Anthony Carrigan (NoHo Hank from Barry) inhabits a highly insecure robot named Dennis Caleb McCoy sent back to kill the heroes, and steals every single scene he’s in.
Even for its narrative and visual tics, the whole affair is filled with a wonderful sense of hope, of optimism, and of warmth that is almost entirely absent from the movies today. The returning actors seem to genuinely love each other, and you can tell the new arrivals are overjoyed to be a part of it. Laughs are there to be had, and you might even shed a tear or two in the proceedings. I was worried we’d get a grim and self-serious sequel, but the beauty of it all is that Bill and Ted can never become cynical, because they are intellectually inhibited from experiencing cynicism. Sure, there are roadblocks along the way, but minor setbacks cannot keep them from believing in their destiny, even if it involves something as weighty as the fate of the universe. Their childlike wonder and love can still become ours, cracking our crusty, bitter exteriors, if just for 92 minutes. In a time of unprecedented uncertainty, with depressing news coming at us from every direction, it’s so refreshing to sit down and watch these characters, still terminally optimistic despite it all, and still encouraging us to “be excellent to each other.”