Bill & Ted Face The Music
US (2020) Dir. Dean Parisot
Sometimes, one has an idea that sounds good in theory but inherent problems suggest it maybe it should stay an idea and not put into action. For example, there is making a belated sequel to a film franchise that was very much of its time thirty years later, and hoping to replicate its previous success.
2020 and Wyld Stallyons Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) and William S. “Bill” Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) are about to give up music. Their marriages are in trouble and the only people who still idolise them are their daughters, Thea Preston (Samara Weaving) and Billie Logan (Brigette Lundy-Paine). The arrival of Kelly (Kristen Schaal), daughter of Rufus, to take them to her mother the Great Leader (Holland Taylor) in the future changes everything.
Reprimanded for not writing the song that unites the world, Bill and Ted have 77 minutes to write it or the universe will end, but they instead steal Rufus’ time machine to get the song from their future selves. Angry, the Great Leader sends a robot Dennis (Anthony Carrigan) to kill them, hoping this will stabilise the universe. Meanwhile, their daughters steal Kelly’s time machine to collect musicians from across history to help with the song.
When Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure arrived in 1989 it had us kids playing air guitar and decreeing everything to be “Excellent” (to avoid argument, Wayne’s World appeared on US TV a few months before Bill & Ted was released). Two years later Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey wasn’t quite as successful but that didn’t stop short lived animated and live action TV spin-offs from appearing.
Opinion has been mixed as to whether we needed this third film; had it arrived in the mid-90s it might have bombed once the Wayne’s World films stole their thunder. With Hollywood running out of new ideas, perhaps it was inevitable that Bill & Ted Face The Music would eventually exist, no doubt to piggyback on Keanu Reeves’ career resurgence via the John Wicks films.
The question is whether nostalgia is enough to make this revival work. The sight of two fifty-year old men trying to be cool, calling each other “dude”, and still wearing their teen clothes is not a pretty one but is part of the joke. Despite marrying the princesses, Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes) and Joanna (Jayma Mays), and becoming fathers, maturity and responsibility still evades them.
By way of settling us back into the familiar groove of the past, the film opens with the wedding of Bill’s ex-step-mother Missy (Amy Stoch) to Ted’s younger brother Deacon (Beck Bennett), with Ted’s father (Hal Landon Jr.) still demanding they get proper jobs. Kelly’s arrival comes at a crucial moment as the flagging fortunes of the Wyld Stallyns was about to end the duo for good. She has a flash new time machine but in the future, the old phone booth belonging to Rufus is still there and they happily pinch it.
In creating an interesting new vs. old dichotomy, our aged heroes jump around time in the old phone booth catching up with different versions of themselves in various degrees of prosperity. Each version has suffered from splitting up with their wives and their futures are directly influenced by the actions of the current Bill and Ted, creating a linear saga of their downfall right up until old age.
Providing the twist in these parallel missions is the daughters effectively replicating the plot of the first film, travelling through history to gather the finest musicians – from Jimi Hendrix (DazMann Still) to Louis Armstrong (Jeremiah Craf), from Mozart (Daniel Dorr) to Chinese flautist Ling Mun (Sharon Gee), as well as a prehistoric drummer Grom (Patty Anne Miller), and a modern day rapper named Kid Cudi, playing himself.
A nice visual touch that might have gone unnoticed is the fact the two daughters are not just named after the other’s father but also resembles them. Aside from inheriting their physical foibles and traits, the dopey side of their fathers’ DNA also appears to have over ridden that of their more sensible mothers. No surprises there, otherwise we wouldn’t have a film if they were smarter and less reckless.
With the comedy being so heavily self-referential – prior knowledge of the franchise is required – and largely hit or miss, it is down to two supporting cast members to rescue it from total disaster. Dennis the robot assassin has self-esteem issues and keeps bungling his mission, including zapping everyone to hell. For a technological creation that isn’t supposed to have human emotion, the character works well via the pathos of his desire to fit in as the outlier of the story.
However, he, and everyone else, is overshadowed by Death (William Sadler), demoted to hell after saving Bill and Ted and playing bass in Wyld Stallyns until they fell out. He is only in it for the last fifteen minutes but he steals every scene he is in with a wonderfully precious yet very funny turn, even scoring points over Dennis in the pecking order by virtue of his rocker credentials.
No doubt Reeves and Winter had fun revisiting these iconic roles, as well as portraying them in the various other guises, including advanced old age where they do their best work under prosthetic make-up (which they continue in a post credits sequence), the rest of the time it borders on parody. The daughters also suffer from lack of chemistry, although Lundy-Paine mimics Ted’s physical quirks, like his stiff walk and headshakes, very well.
Unfortunately, Bill & Ted Face The Music is an example of trying to recapture a zeitgeist moment and sadly falling short. Modern audiences may not get it whilst older audiences might be embarrassed because they have grown up and the characters haven’t. If they focused on the daughters more, things might have been much different and dare I say a great improvement. Not so excellent for this writer I’m afraid.