Deeply stupid, deeply heartfelt
“I’m tired, dude,” says a haggard Theodore “Ted” Logan (Keanu Reeves) to sunken-eyed William S. “Bill” Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter). A most luminous insight, middle-aged dudes. Bill & Ted Face the Music is the deeply stupid but deeply heartfelt third film in a series that includes 1989’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, an early-’90s TV show, a comic book, and even a breakfast cereal. Why now? Why not?
BILL & TED FACE THE MUSIC ★★★(3/5 stars)
Directed by: Dean Parisot
Written by: Chris Matheson, Ed Solomon
Starring:Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Kristen Schaal, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine
Running time: 88 mins
Neither excellent nor bogus, Face the Music comes nearly thirty years after we last saw the two landlocked surfer-dude musicians of San Dimas, California rock the world as Wyld Stallyns. Their music career flourished, then crashed, and now they’re both washed-up SoCal dads with tight bank accounts and rocky marriages. Couples therapy isn’t working, since they think it means going to counseling together as a couple of couples. The wives (Jayma Mays and Erinn Hayes), time-traveled princesses from the 15th century, are mostly sweet and tolerant eye candy who serve no purpose other than to motivate Bill and Ted to be better people.
Their daughters are another story. Apparently, the babies seen for an instant at the end of the last movie aren’t sons, even though Ted named his baby Bill and Bill named his baby Ted. Turns out that Wilhelmina “Billie” Logan (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Theodora “Thea” Preston (Samara Weaving) think Bill and Ted are “most excellent dads” whose passion for music inspired their budding musicologist offspring to have an encyclopedic knowledge of all things rock-related.
Anyway, cue the arrival of a Time Machine. In the first movie, a time-traveler from the future named Rufus (George Carlin) intervened in Bill and Ted’s life to help them pass a high-school history class and spark their future status as musician philosophers who eventually inspire a utopian society in the 27th century. Cute premise. In the second movie, a bitter terrorist in the future uses a time machine to alter history by unleashing evil killer robot versions of Bill and Ted. They then meet the Grim Reaper (William Sadler), who turns out to be a sore loser and wannabe rock star. Dark and convoluted, but still fun.
This time around, Rufus’ daughter Kelly (Kristen Schaal) travels back from the future to retrieve Bill and Ted so that her mother, the Great Leader (Holland Taylor), can warn them of impending doom. If their music doesn’t unite the entire world in 77 minutes and 25 seconds—in a conceit that oddly supersedes time travel—then reality will collapse and all of space and time will cease to exist. How does a song save reality? “I don’t know, but it has to somehow,” says Kelly. Right.
Which is to say: the stakes are high, the story is beside the point, and what really matters is that Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter get to meet future versions of themselves in heavy make-up and wacky costumes. Jacked-up-prison-inmate Bill and Ted are my favorite, but bed-ridden-centenarian Bill and Ted are pretty chill, too.
What also matters is that Billie and Thea have their own excellent adventure, which involves borrowing Kelly’s souped-up time machine to scour the millennia for the most bodacious musicians and bring back a cave-woman drummer, a mythical Chinese flutist, Mozart, Louis Armstrong, and Jimi Hendrix. Something tells me Billie and Thea will have their own movie next, which is fine because Lundy-Paine and Weaving do spot-on imitations of Bill and Ted that are pretty hilarious.
The film has an ersatz Terminator in the form of an emotionally fraught killer robot named Dennis Caleb McCoy (Anthony Carrigan), who loves to boogie but oddly doesn’t do the robot dance. The secret weapon, though, is the re-emergence of the teutonic-accented Grim Reaper, still the best part of the Bill and Ted franchise. Hearing people chastise the hellish denizen for playing 40-minute bass solos is downright heavenly. Bonus: watching Jesus play cowbell.
Time Travel movies are generally idiotic, because narratives become increasingly compromised by their own butterfly-effect violations. They’re a bore, even when they’re comedies. And yes, having Kid Cudi appear as himself to explain the quantum realm and temporal singularity doesn’t really help. Think of Face the Music as a toothless episode of Rick and Morty, warm-and-fuzzy irreverence with absolutely none of the existential cruelty and multi-universe nihilism.
“In case you’re wondering, I’m essentially an infinite me,” says Ted near the end, in a line of dialogue that Keanu Reeves fans and ironists alike would probably love to see chiseled on the actor’s tombstone. Starting with My Own Private Idaho and especially after The Matrix, Reeves gained a meditative aura of pop philosopher to which this film clearly pays tribute. And that’s not a bad thing: if there’s any redeeming quality in the mostly harmless, sweetly superficial experience of watching Face the Music, it’s that viewers might dip their toe into deeper issues of identity, friendship, fidelity, legacy, fate, and how time affects us all. Which is most excellent.