Note: The writer of this review watched Bill & Ted Face The Music from home on a digital screener. Before making the decision to see it—or any other film—in a movie theater, please consider the health risks involved. Click here for an interview on the matter with scientific experts.
If you squint a little, the original Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure counts as edutainment. After all, the 1989 comedy revolved around two teenage slackers who used a time machine to kidnap historical figures, all in hopes of passing an upcoming exam. And though it played mostly fast and loose with the textbook stuff, the plot has, in the years since, made the movie an unlikely favorite of high-school history teachers. That lesson-plan-friendly element was tossed like a roach from the window of a beat-up Subaru for the sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, but it returns in a hybridized, even more dubiously educational form in the 29-years-later threequel Bill & Ted Face The Music. Here, historical figures—both real and made up—party alongside robots with low self-esteem, alternate future selves, cameoing celebrities, and, of course, Death.
True to the surfer-dude spirit of its boneheaded leads, Bill & Ted Face The Music has a laidback quality that makes it less overstimulating than it could have been, given its multiple storylines and chaotic cast of characters. As the plot kicks into gear, Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) are tasked by Kelly (Kristen Schaal), daughter of George Carlin’s time-traveling tour guide, to write a song that will save the world from temporal collapse. Problem is, they only have 75 minutes to do it. To make the deadline, the now middle-aged pals set out on a journey to find versions of themselves that have already written the song so they can plagiarize their own work. Meanwhile, their daughters, Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Thea (Samara Weaving), embark on a parallel quest to assemble the best backing band ever, which ends up including both the iconic (DazMann Still as Jimi Hendrix) and the available (Kid Cudi as himself).
Bill & Ted Face The Music doesn’t find its rhythm until these two storylines converge an hour in, which means that this 88-minute movie is basically over before it really begins. Up to that point, director Dean Parisot (of Galaxy Quest fame) and writers Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson (who also scripted Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey) bounce from scenario to scenario like they’re flipping through the channels of an all-Bill & Ted cable package. It’s an approach that allows for some fun moments, like Reeves and Winter in spandex and wigs squatting at Dave Grohl’s house, as well as the performance of a Wyld Stallyns composition called “That Which Binds Us Through Time—The Chemical, Physical, And Biological Nature Of Love And The Exploration Of The Meaning Of Meaning, Pt. 1.” But there are missed opportunities, too. Why cast Barry’s Anthony Carrigan as the aforementioned insecure murder droid and then do nothing fun with him until the movie is almost over?
To fill all that time up front, Face The Music largely focuses on the middle-aged ennui that sends Bill, Ted, and their wives, Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes) and Joanna (Jayma Mays), into marriage counseling. Bill and Ted were never deep characters, but the film’s superficial treatment of their personal crises makes it feel like they’ve been kept in cryogenic storage for 29 years waiting to be defrosted, rather than rocking out and raising their kids and strengthening their family bonds over the years that have passed. Anyway, it’s not like the film needed another thread to tie up.
The characters haven’t changed much, but CGI technology definitely has. Bill & Ted Face The Music takes advantage of those improvements with a plethora of scenes set in the future and in Hell, both upgraded from relatively modest sets to epic green-screen environments. These are a welcome alternative to the utterly generic suburban locations the characters otherwise occupy. But aside from the scene-stealing return of William Sadler, reprising his role as Death himself from Bogus Journey, the addition of characters from these fantasy realms doesn’t bring all that much to the story.
The Bill & Ted movies derive much of their humor from the blending of extremely low and extremely high stakes. Face The Music kind of blows it on the former: For all the preaching about the importance of togetherness and unity, the film mostly keeps its fiftysomething stars and their kids apart. Which is a shame, as the younger Logan and Preston are a hoot—particularly Lundy-Paine, who replicates Reeves’ dopey facial expressions and burnout inflection with precision. And while the high stakes couldn’t be higher, the film simply takes too long to find its focus. It’s not the most excellent of outcomes, but not a total bummer, either.