If you squint really hard and push it with conviction, the original Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure counts as edutainment. After all, the 1989 comedy revolved around two teen slackers who used a time machine to kidnap historical figures, all in hopes of passing their history class. And even though it played mostly fast and loose with the textbook stuff, the education element was tossed right out the window for the sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, but it returns in hybridized, even more dubiously educational form in the twenty-nine-years-later threequel Bill & Ted Face the Music. Here, historical figures — both real and made up — party alongside robots with low self-esteem, alternate future selves, cameoing celebrities, and, of course, Death.
True to the surfer-dude spirit of its boneheaded leads, Bill & Ted Face the Music has a laidback quality that makes it less overstimulating than it could have been, given its multiple storylines and chaotic cast of characters. As the plot gets rolling, Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) are tasked by Kelly (Kristen Schaal), daughter of George Carlin’s time-traveling tour guide, to write a song that will save the world from temporal collapse. The problem is, they only have seventy-five minutes to do it. To make the deadline, the now middle-aged pals set out on a journey to find versions of themselves that have already written the song so they can plagiarize their own work. Meanwhile, their daughters, Billie (Bridgette Lundy-Paine) and Thea (Samara Weaving), embark on a parallel quest to assemble the best backing band ever, which ends up including both the iconic (DazMann Still as Jimi Hendrix) and the available (Kid Cudi as himself).
Bill & Ted Face the Music struggles to find its rhythm until these two storylines converge an hour in, which means that this eighty-eight-minute movie in some ways ends right as its starting. Up to that point, director Dean Parisot and writers Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson bounce from scenario to scenario like they’re flipping through the channels of an all-Bill & Ted cable package. It’s an approach that allows for some funny moments, like Bill and Ted in spandex and wigs wondering around Dave Grohl’s house or the reoccurring run-ins with alternate versions of themselves. But there are missed opportunities, too. Why cast Barry‘s Anthony Carrigan as the aforementioned insecure murder robot and then do little with him besides being a sort of copy of Death.
To fill all that time up front, Face the Music largely focuses on the middle-aged tedium that sends Bill, Ted, and their wives, Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes) and Joanna (Jayma Mays), into marriage counseling. Bill and Ted were never deep characters, but the film’s superficial treatment of their personal crises makes it feel like they’ve been kept in cryogenic storage for twenty-nine years waiting to be defrosted, rather than rocking out and raising their kids. Less evolvement than arrested development. The characters haven’t changed much, but CGI technology definitely has. Bill & Ted Face the Music takes advantage of those improvements with a plethora of scenes set in the future and in Hell, both upgraded from relatively modest sets to epic (mixed-bag) green-screen environments. These are a more welcome alternative to the quite generic, cheap-looking suburban locations the characters otherwise occupy. But aside from the scene-stealing return of William Sadler, reprising his role as Death himself from Bogus Journey, the addition of characters from these other realms don’t bring much to the film at all.
The Bill & Ted movies derive much of their humor from the blending of extremely low and extremely high stakes. Face the Music is kind of mixed on the former: For all the preaching about the importance of togetherness and unity, the film mostly keeps its fiftysomething stars and their kids apart. Which is a shame, as the younger Logan and Preston are a hoot — particularly Lundy-Paine, who replicates Reeves’ dopey facial expressions of burnout inflection with precision. And while the stakes are low, the laidback pleasures do find a place in the heartfelt; retaining just enough of the energy and tone of the originals to feel maybe more fleeting but still fitting. While maybe not excellent, Bill & Ted Face the Music finds enough cheery charms, hit-and-miss laughs, and breezy affableness for a non-bogus journey.
Bill & Ted Face the Music is available on VOD