The lesson of Bill & Ted Face the Music, etched on a pocket watch from the future, goes like this: "Sometimes things don't make sense until the end of the story." Unfortunately, no one told anyone who made Bill & Ted Face the Music.
Full of half-baked zingers delivered with stifled breaths, Bill & Ted Face the Music is a discordant sci-fi screwball comedy that can't outgrow its predecessors' shortcomings. Despite the earnest efforts of co-stars Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter, two men in their fifties who shout "Dude!" in the same intonation as '80s teenagers (impressive, honestly), Face the Music is at best good for a few chuckles and at worst a lot of white noise. There is a sincerity to Face the Music that may win over cynical hearts. But like an aging rocker's comeback album, it's a bummer, dude.
In theaters and VOD from Orion Pictures (word of advice: stay home), Bill & Ted Face the Music is the long-awaited sequel that turns the two Bill & Ted films into a trilogy. Director Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) and writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon craft the vehicle for Reeves and Winter to once again play their wannabe rockers Theodore Logan and Bill S. Preston, two buds who've kicked it with Socrates and rocked out with the devil.
Now, in 2020, their hair is the same but their faces are a little long. After failing to write the song to unite the universe, Bill and Ted wallow in has-been limbo. (With two literal princesses for wives and daughters who love them, you wonder what's so bad about their suburban milieu.) When visitors from the future warn that their overdue song is the only thing that will save reality, the Wyld Stallyns have just 77 minutes to make their dreams come true. In true slacker fashion, Bill and Ted hop travel across their own futures to steal the finished song from themselves.
I wish that was all Bill & Ted Face the Music was about, but there's more. As Bill and Ted embark on a heist, their twenty-something daughters Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Thea (Samara Weaving) also hop across time to assemble history's greatest musicians to help the dad dudes save the world in what feels like a soft reboot for Millenials and Gen Z.
Less its own movie and more like Bill & Ted Remastered, Face the Music treads ground resembling both Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey. Rather than let audiences revel in the safety of that familiarity, Face the Music suffocates as it stuffs its plot with nonsensical stakes and pointless urgency (temporal this, assassin cyborgs that). It's not that Face the Music doesn't make sense, it's that it doesn't believe in its own foundations for us to ride along. Reminders of the plot from a fashionable Kristen Schall (as Kelly, daughter of the late George Carlin's Rufus) and sci-fi exposition from a flat Kid Cudi (as himself) are never helpful and will not stop your eyebrows from wrinkling in confusion. When a disoriented Jimi Hendrix and Mozart stumble out of a time machine, you feel just as wobbly.
Of course, airtight science fiction has never been the draw of Bill & Ted. It's the infectious, boneheaded optimism of two excellent dudes who came of age during MTV. Reeves and Winter are indeed excellent, working with material beneath them and having very obvious fun doing so, and maybe that's all Bill & Ted Face the Music ought to be. In these difficult times, is it wrong to have dumb fun? I'm not opposed. But when you know those involved are capable of so much more, it's dissatisfying that what they've made is less than.
There were fleeting moments I believed Face the Music was the feel-good Bill & Ted conclusion I wanted for so long. Holland Taylor, as the Great Leader of the future, brings welcome seriousness George Carlin did not yet still slays at the utterance of "two-dollar taco night." There's magic in a post-John Wick Reeves telling the Grim Reaper (a returning William Sadler, himself a charm), "Death, we didn't want to sue you, dude," and Death arguing on behalf of his bass solos. Bill and Ted in couples therapy is nothing short of evil genius. Dave Grohl has a cameo!
But as much as I tried to let myself go and, you know, feel the music, I couldn't shake the feeling Face the Music is full of masters working below their station. A tighter, smarter script with one less plot, stakes that make sense, and an ending that actually delivers on its — I'm being generous here — "twist" would have gone far. Letting Lundy-Paine and Weaving be their own characters, rather than copies of their fathers speaking in their same voices, would have gone even further.
I don't want to hate Bill & Ted Face the Music. I could use a movie like Bill & Ted Face the Music right now. An innocent comedy with the principle idea that we can, in fact, build bridges and understand each other would be soothing for quarantined souls. "Be excellent to each other, and party on dudes" has been my personal motto for 20-odd years, and I hold onto it whenever there's another massive trauma inflicted on us. After Face the Music, it still will be. But I know now the party is over.
Bill & Ted Face the Music opens in theaters and VOD on August 28.