Bill & Ted Face the Music is the long-awaited (by some) conclusion to the trilogy that began with 1989’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. The original film was built on the flimsy premise that George Carlin used a time traveling phone booth to help a couple surfer dude burnouts pass a history exam so they could form a band that would eventually write a song that would save the world, and the 1991 sequel Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey effectively beat the dead horse beyond all recognition by introducing aliens, robots, and spiritual planes of existence before broadcasting the foretold hit song to every television in the world.
Which begs the question, what more is there to be said about Bill & Ted? Nearly thirty years since their last appearance, is there any logical reason to revisit these characters again? The answer to that question is probably no, but logic has never been the strong suit for the Bill & Ted franchise, which has always been an exuberant celebration of pure idiocy. Rather, its success is largely built on the backs of its charismatic leads, Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, who portray Bill & Ted respectively. The pair brought an infectiously endearing quality to their characters’ joyful idiocy that fit the absurdity of the premise perfectly and made even the dumbest gags fun. So the real question is not whether we need another Bill & Ted film right now, but whether the aging stars can still deliver enough of their classic madcap exuberance to make the unnecessary sequel worth the effort. The answer to that question is both “No way!” and “Yes way!” simultaneously.
Face the Music picks up where Bogus Journey left off, adding a rather large footnote to the previous film: the song that was meant to save the world catapulted the Wyld Stallyns to new heights of rock stardom, but completely failed to unite the world. The band spent the ensuing years dedicating their careers to coming up with the real song that they were destined to write. As their efforts grew more insane and indulgent, their careers plummeted. Once able to fill massive arenas like Wembley Stadium and the grand canyon, the has-been rockers are now reduced to playing Elks lodges on two dollar taco night. Despite their shrinking fanbase, the pair remain too unflappably oblivious to recognize the depth of their own failure and continue to work on the song that will save the world, experimenting with such diverse sounds as theremins, bagpipes, and Tibetan throat singing, all at the same time.
Bill & Ted never question their calling until their princesses turned girlfriends turned wives Joanna & Elizabeth (Jayma Mays and Erinn Hayes) ask them to attend couples counseling — which the co-dependent bandmates arrange as a single session for a couple of couples — where they realize for the first time that their calling has put a strain on their relationships. As they get ready to hang up their guitars and get real jobs, Kelly (Kristen Schaal), the daughter of their former mentor Rufus, takes them to the future where they are told that the song they’ve been working on needs to be completed and performed tonight (local San Dimas time). The newly imposed time crunch sets off a series of three separate, simultaneous time travel adventures. Bill & Ted hop in their old telephone booth to travel to the future so they can steal the song from themselves after they’ve eventually written it. Their daughters, Billie & Thea (Brigette Lundy-Paine and Samara Weaving) travel to the past to put together the most epic band in history, including the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, and the first tribesman to invent the drum solo. And finally, Elizabeth and Joanna largely disappear on a trip with their future selves to find an alternate timeline where they are actually happy.
If you think about the interweaving timelines, they make perfect sense. If you think about them too hard, they are a complete mess of nonsense designed to push an overly complicated and underdeveloped narrative forward. After nearly thirty years of buildup, it is perhaps inevitable that some expectations will be disappointed, and the film delivers its fair share of missed opportunities. The story gets a bit too bogged down in an endless series of Bill & Ted meeting their future selves. The Stallyn’s daughters are essentially carbon copies of their dads, offering no new depth or individuality. William Sadler’s Grim Reaper is a highlight of the film, but gets sadly little screen time. And the caricatures of dead celebrities are so broad and one dimensional that they would be embarrassing in a film more concerned (or at all concerned) with historical accuracy.
It’s not all bad news, though. Despite their age, Reeves and especially Winter do a masterful job of reviving the boyish charm of the titular characters, even if they no longer possess the same level of youthful energy that they brought to the first two installments. Their admirable and entertaining commitment to the affably moronic duo continues to deliver some real belly laughs, and even if Billie & Thea don’t really bring anything new to the franchise, Lundy-Paine and Weaving are just as skilled at dude-ing their way through pleasingly low-brow humor.
Verdict: 3 out of 5 stars
Despite a meandering story that serves mostly to set up a series of in-jokes and cameos, Bill & Ted Face the Music delivers pretty much everything one could hope for from a Bill & Ted movie. From the shredding air guitar solos to the heavy use of West Coast 90s slang, the film delivers a healthy dose of nostalgia that rekindles the spirit of the originals, even if it never quite reaches their heights. It is a fun and fitting conclusion to the trilogy that will be well worth the wait for die hard Bill & Ted Heads, though they probably won’t find themselves moved to revisit it as often as the Excellent Adventure or Bogus journey.