Another week, another straight-to-streaming release for a major motion picture due to the ongoing pandemic (yes! It’s still going on!). With the conclusion of what can only be described as “an absolute surreal, shitty week”, there was at least some levity in the form of Alex Winters and Keanu Reeves and their transdimensional adventures through time and space via a time-slipping phone booth (remember those things?) in director Dean Parisot’s Bill & Ted Face The Music.
Usually decades-long pauses between installments does little to improve the storytelling quality (*coughcoughIndependenceDaycoughcough*), but here the quality remains more or less the same (for better and for worse), while mainly experience an upgrade in looks and specs…
When we’re reunited with the duo, they’re aging rockers, playing weddings to their meager fans, and awaiting their appointed destiny to fall into their laps. They’re married to Joanna and Elizabeth, the time-displaced princesses they’d met in Bogus Journey, and they each have a late-teens kid, Ted’s daughter Thea (Samara Weaving), and Bill’s daughter Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine), and their seeming co-dependence on each other has led to the two couples going into marriage counselling…together.
Meanwhile, in the far future, society — and the entire universe itself — is on the brink of imminent destruction unless Bill and Ted perform the one song that will unite the world in peace. Kelly (Kristen Schaal), the daughter of the late George Carlin’s guide, Rufus, has arrived, delivering the news that gets the plot going.
There are, in actuality, three time-traveling plots going on here. The main story focuses on Bill and Ted travelling further and further into their own futures, hoping to steal the completed song from their future selves, and perform it in the present.
While the most focused plot here, it’s also easily the most amusing: one future finds the duo living together in a posh mansion, and donning British accents for some reason (what they refer to as the Madonna phase), with some meta-joke with Keanu himself, since he had been trashed early in his career for attempting an accent. This storyline is the film’s most interesting, and it’s clear early on that Winters and Reeves were having a hell of a lot of fun jumping right back into character.
Secondary to all this is Thea and Billie, who wind up stealing their own phone booth and traveling to various points in time to build the greatest band in all of history. Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, Mozart, flutist Ling Lun, and prehistoric drummer Grom make the cut, as histories and locations jump around and blend into each other. Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine are amiable enough in their roles — basically playing younger verrsions of their fathers — but some of the “gee whiz!” expressions seemed somewhat forced, and their scenes offered some of the more jarring examples of green screen use in recent memory (it isn’t terrible…but it is very noticeable).
Thirdly, Joanna and Elizabeth spend most of the film traveling on their own, trying to find a reality where they are happy (this plot goes nowhere…they wind up returning at the climax, which is the first time I’d noticed they were missing from the story at all).
Along the way, several characters return to further connect this sequel to its predecessors. Death (William Sadler) makes a welcome return, and is just as bemusedly a curmudgeon as ever (and seemingly spent the past 30 years continuing to cheat himself at various games while holding a grudge against our duo).
Barry‘s Anthony Carrigan is perhaps the strongest new addition as a kill-bot named Dennis Caleb McCoy, who gets some of the best jokes of the entire movie; and Jillian Bell makes the best of her few scenes as the exasperated couples counselor Dr. Taylor Wood (although she typically elevates any role she’s given). But as fun as these characters are, the real charm lays strictly with Bill and Ted.
***SLIGHT SPOILER FOR THE CLIMAX***
Having them merely be over-the-hill versions of their slacker young selves seems an appropriate extension of their characters, as it makes their lack of real, concrete success be less from a character defect and more from being over-sincere in their confidence (it’s not that they’re lazy, but that they have supreme confidence that they’ll save the day right when it matters). And, of course, they do. Or rather, they learn at the right moment that the greatest song in the world was written by “Preston/Logan”, and not necessarily Bill and Ted themselves. And it was that realization — that the “Preston/Logan” known to write the song that unites the world was actually their daughters — that was wholesomely pleasant.
Look, I’m 34 and know that some of my more preposterous dreams and goals aren’t going to happen, and to see two characters come to that same realization, and, without hesitation, understand that sometimes the best way to save the world is to play backup, is reaffirming. There’s nothing monumental or life-changing about that development, but seeing it occur with two characters in pop culture — and two who are probably the least you’d expect to have that sort of process — is charming.
“Charming” is the word best used to describe Bill & Ted Face The Music. It isn’t mind-blowing, and it won’t change your life, and by know the conceit and charm of the concept might seem somewhat stale — but it is good, charming fun. The cinematography by Shelley Johnson might have been a bit too flat, and the editing by Don Zimmerman could have been tighter (get rid of Joanna and Elizabeth’s subplot altogether), at no point was the film anything less than entertaining. Would this have benefited from a large-screen release? Probably not; if anything the theater trappings might have been even more obvious on a large screen.
There’s something to be said about plain old fun, charm, and characters trying to do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do. After a week as disheartening as last week was, it is surprising that such a throwback to weird, yet mainstream, filmmaking is place where that positive energy now emerges. If you can, give it a watch. San Dimas high school football rules! 3.5/5 Dave Grohls.
Bill & Ted Face The Music is available for streaming on iTunes, and currently playing at select theaters if you’re a crazy person.