Well it’s about time Bill and Ted showed up to save us from the 2020 doldrums. Why didn’t they bring a better movie with them?
Sorry, dudes and dude-ettes. Bill & Ted: Face the Music, the third movie in the endearing time-traveling adventure and the first one in 29 years, falls short of bodacious. Happy yet hapless, the comedy is sort of like a high school reunion: Good times in theory — whoa, the incomparable Keanu Reeves can still channel his goofy side even in his 50s! — but anticlimactic once you actually show up and realize that hijinks have a shelf life. At least our well-meaning heroes are still excellent.
Let’s get you up to speed: Twenty-five years have passed since doofus metal-heads Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Theodore Ted Logan (Reeves) last squished themselves into a phone booth to journey through time and space to pass their history exam — and, you know, ultimately bring peace to the world. They’re still best friends with a limited vocabulary. They’re also married to those beautiful 15th century English princesses. Ted has a teen daughter named Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine). Billy’s girl is named Thea (Samara Weaving). But the guys are not exactly fulfilling their destiny.
Though we last saw the guys playing an epic concert broadcast all over the globe, the pair and their band, Wyld Stallyns, have fallen on hard times. Now they’re doing weddings, and just a few years removed from performing at hole-in-the-wall taco joints. Enter a concerned time-traveler — the daughter of Rufus, i.e., their original time ambassador (RIP George Carlin!) — to take them back to the future. Bill and Ted learn from the higher-ups that they have just 77 minutes and seven seconds to unite the world in song and “save reality.” While they search far and wide for the perfect song, their daughters take their own trip to help their dads.
Considering the writers had decades to tinker with the screenplay, the story is surprisingly labored. Worse, the overstuffed chain of events harkens closer to the weird 1991 sequel Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey than the spirited 1989 original Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. The guys try to create that song and press fast-forward to check in on themselves and help their faltering marriages and literally go to hell to see an old friend. While their daughters have the right ‘tude, their adventures are silly after-thoughts.
Then again, the Bill & Ted flicks have remained part of the pop culture lexicon because they never tried to be high-brow comedy. Before Seth Rogen and Wayne’s World and even Bart Simpson, these two underachievers just wanted to have fun and we loved them for it. And to Reeves and Winter’s credit, they sold the characters with undeniably sweet and slack-jawed charm. They made sure their alter-egos were good at seeing the good in people. Stream Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and see it for yourself.
All these years later, that joy pops off the screen. Yes, it’s admittedly jarring to see them at first. Bill and Ted aren’t just facing the music; they’re facing wrinkles and deep voices and less pep in their step. The passage of time works to their advantage in a most affecting way: Reeves and Winter play off each other as if they’ve truly been riffing in their garage for the past 30 years. The chemistry is the real deal, and their dialogue still generates easy laughs.
If you go in your own phone booth and travel back in time, you’ll discover that almost no comedy sequel has ever surpassed its predecessor. Bill & Ted: Face the Music is not the exception — and not just because phone booths have gone the way of VHS tapes and Bon Jovi cassettes. There’s just not a lot of there there. But no matter what the future holds, it is comforting to know that Bill and Ted continue to smile and rock on.
Bill & Ted: Face the Music opens in select theaters and on premium on demand on Friday, August 28