'Bill & Ted Face the Music': Film Review

Bill & Ted Face the Music Still 2 - Orion Pictures Publicity -H 2020
Patti Perret / Orion Pictures
An uneven but likable return.

Dean Parisot's third entry in the long-dormant film series starring Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter introduces the eponymous heroes' daughters and sends them all back and forth through time.

They saved the world by writing the perfect song, but it didn't take. (Maybe somebody actually listened to the song: "God gave rock & roll to you," really?) Imagining the return of the time-traveling Messrs. Preston and Logan, Dean Parisot's Bill & Ted Face the Music is almost exactly as good as its two big-screen predecessors — make of that statement what you will — while cleaning up some, but not all, of the things that might make an old fan of those films cringe today. Despite a dicey opening, the pic should please those looking forward to it, and, with the addition of a new generation (the duo's daughters), attract a new fan or two as well.

Screenwriters Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon (who wrote 1989's Excellent Adventure and 1991's Bogus Journey) leave a lot on the table when, with a couple of sentences of voiceover, they dispense with what might've been the movie's eventful first act: Not only did the closing performance in Bogus fail to unite the world, as B&T's from-the-future bud Rufus promised it would, but things are getting much worse. Nearly thirty years later, spacetime is "folding in on itself," with historical figures simply blooping out of their own periods and being dropped into others. Seven hundred years from now, the planet's Great Leader (Holland Taylor) is convinced something must be done immediately.

(Like the others, this movie plays by some very odd time-travel rules. If at noon you hear that something is going to happen at 5 pm, it doesn't matter how much you skip through time: You have only five hours of your own life to go before it happens.)

We meet Bill and Ted (Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves) at the umpteenth wedding of serial heartbreaker Missy (Amy Stoch), where the erstwhile rock stars have a wedding present nobody wants: The premiere of their latest opus, whose title is long enough that Fiona Apple might object, and which pompously includes musical ingredients from bagpipes to Tuvan throat singing.

Only two people at the wedding dig it: Ted's daughter Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Bill's daughter Theadore (Samara Weaving). As spacily good-natured as their dads — Lundy-Paine even offers a studied impersonation of Reeves' whoa-dude mannerisms — these two actually have deep musical knowledge to go with their enthusiasm. They can name-check Clara Rockmore for any Theremin nerds in the crowd, and dissect everything from symphonic structure to an electric-bass solo.

But their families aren't perfectly happy. The princesses Ted and Bill met in medieval England and later married are frustrated with their ceaseless attempts to write the perfect song. A funny couples-counseling session reveals how hard it is for the joined-at-the-hip husbands to understand mature relationships.

(Speaking of mature relationships: In their mid-fifties, Bill and Ted no longer call people "fag," and when a phone number begins with the digits 69, they don't even notice. But it must be noted that the actors now playing the princesses, Jayma Mays and Erinn Hayes, are conspicuously younger than their characters. The message to women is simple: You can rule the world, as Holland Taylor's character does, or help save it as the daughters do, but if you want to be loved by a movie's hero, you'd better not look older than forty.)

Our heroes' distress is amplified when Rufus' daughter Kelly (Kristen Schaal) arrives from the future. We learn that, prior information notwithstanding, the concert that's supposed to save all of space and time is going to occur at 7:17 p.m. tonight. The boys have only seventy-something minutes to write the magic song they're supposed to play — or maybe they can travel a few years into the future and steal it from themselves?

Face the Music thus amplifies what has been one of the series' most reliable pleasures: Not meeting thinly imagined caricatures of historical figures, but seeing the protagonists interact with older, younger, or stranger versions of themselves. As with the amusing Evil Bill and Ted they fought last time around, conflict awaits here, along with the occasional laugh. In one fight, trying to find a move their older selves won't remember them making, they briefly become as stupid-wily as Bob & Doug McKenzie.

While the fellas are zipping around trying to find the perfect song and the princesses are on another mission the movie hardly cares about, Thea and Billie get control of yet a third time machine and go on a more promising quest — collecting this episode's group of thinly imagined caricatures of historical figures, all of them musical legends. Presumably, when Dads have their song, they'll need a world-class band to play it. That's assuming a fumbling robot assassin from the future (Barry scene-stealer Anthony Carrigan) doesn't kill everyone involved.

So far, Lundy-Paine and Weaving have found their most interesting roles on TV (on Atypical and Frankie Shaw's SMILF, respectively). Face the Music doesn't change that, but the two have an appealing energy between them, nicely mirroring the harmless goofiness that made the original films more successful than they probably deserved to be. Whether that means we'll see another wave of the comics, TV series and video games the first Adventure spawned, only time will tell.

Production companies: Many Rivers, Hammerstone
Distributor: Orion Pictures (Available Friday, August 28, on demand and in theaters)
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Kristen Schaal, William Sadler, Anthony Carrigan, Erinn Hayes, Jayma Mays
Director: Dean Parisot
Screenwriters: Chris Matheson, Ed Solomon
Producers: David Haring, Scott Kroopf, Alex Lebovici, Steve Ponce, Ed Solomon
Director of photography: Shelly Johnson
Production designer: Melanie Jones
Costume designer: Jennifer Starzyk
Editor: Don Zimmerman
Composer: Mark Isham
Casting director: Nicole Abellera

PG-13, 92 minutes