Movie Review: Bill & Ted Face the Music

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure was released in 1989, following in the wake of Back to the Future, stadium rock bands and MTV culture. Filmed before the rise of Beavis & Butt-Head, Jay & Silent Bob or even Dude, Where’s My Car?, the movie followed the misadventures of two metalhead slackers turned bandmates, leading to its own animated and live-action series spin-offs. For a few decades, it seemed that Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey in 1991 was the final chapter of the film franchise, but since the turn of the millennium a script for a long overdue sequel has been pinballed about Hollywood. After some technical issues and several revisions, Bill & Ted Face the Music has finally been uh… gifted to the world.

By now, it’s easy to see that Keanu Reeves has got a thing for phonebooths based on his roles in Bill & Ted and The Matrix. Before it gets too silly, it’s a good idea to rewind to 1988, the year when it all started. Toying with the destiny of the wildly unsuccessful two-piece rock band Wyld Stallyns, William “Bill” S. Preston Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan are two happy-go-lucky teens flunking school and living it up in San Dimas, California. Things escalate into a full-blown time-travel adventure when a stranger from the future arrives to help them through school in order to fulfill their overarching destiny to establish the foundational music of a utopian society.

Their mission is important, maybe not quite Terminator important, but still. Channeling the daydreaming and stargazing bewilderment of its buddy duo, Bill & Ted Face the Music picks up the bromantic legacy as two middle-aged Californian dads try to crank out a hit song to fulfill their destiny and save the universe. Just as with their “Bogus Journey”, the dudes find themselves facing off with versions of themselves from across time, pursued by a killer robot named Dennis McCoy. Instead of an actual terminator, they have George Carlin, who gets a tribute and is replaced in this sequel by his daughter Kelly.

If you’ve watched either of the first movies, you’ll know that the Bill & Ted series has never been about making a great film… it’s much more concerned with having fun. Beaming the kids from earth through space and time, to hell and back… the blend of sci-fi comedy adventure may have some distinct similarities with the tonal mix of Ghostbusters, which has also recently been rebooted. However, the playful spirit, geek subculture, cult following and nostalgia-infused stoner undercurrent actually have much more in common with Galaxy Quest.

bill and ted face music film

“Ted, I have a feeling we’re not in Dimas anymore.”

Having switched directors for each film, the mantle was passed on to Dean Parisot, who not surprisingly was at the helm of the light, fun and rewatchable Galaxy Quest. While Bill & Ted Face the Music has been in the pipeline for what seems like ages, the timing of it getting the green light could’ve been spurred by by the Reeves renaissance with Keanu at what seems to be the height of his career. Paying tribute to some of his earliest work, he reprises the role of Ted opposite Alex Winter as Bill in this series reboot.

While you could say Reeves and Winter’s acting careers went in opposite directions, Winter has kept a foot in the door, working as a filmmaker so much that he even took some acting classes to prepare for his reintegration as Bill in later life. The pairing got by on bromance, catchphrases and the stick-it-to-the-man culture of MTV at the dawn of the ’90s. Retaining much of these juvenile trademark elements, even the air guitar riff, it’s a bit difficult to believe the duo haven’t matured beyond their idiotic youth. Being young (or dumb) at heart, it’s easy to roll with the arrested development of the garage band rockers who sadly never discovered that life is like a box of chocolates.

As such, the co-lead performances are simultaneously constrained and compelled by playful lightweight entertainment, their chemistry and rock-till-you-drop charms. Rattling off things like “woah”, “no way” and saying many of their lines in unison, there’s not all that much room for the actors to move metaphorically and even literally, shifting their weight from side-to-side to attain an appropriate level of teenage giddiness. Echoed by their chip-off-the-old-block daughters, the featherweight characterisation and ungrounded storytelling is almost too fluffy.

Paying tribute to George Carlin and passing the torch to possible successors, Bill & Ted Face the Music checks a number of boxes, slowly building up to a frothy and enthralling conclusion. Kristen Schaal is a welcome presence and echoes the basic premise of Galaxy Quest with an understated nod to her role as a super fan in Flight of the Conchords. The Bill & Ted junior dynamic is brought to life by Hugo Weaving’s daughter Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine while Holland Taylor gives The Great Leader gravitas.

The comedy is light, mostly centred on doofus quips and awkward doppelganger situations. Being so superficial and scattered across time, Bill & Ted Face the Music becomes a magpie’s treasure trove. The visual effects sell the time travel, create divergent Bill and Teds and help latch onto the Ghostbusters sci-fi comedy tone. Being so visually orientated and insubstantial, the music keeps things bubbly as the story escalates to an enthralling and largely redeeming finale.

Bill & Ted Face the Music is not a standalone movie and is a more enjoyable ride for fans of the original adventures. Going for pure dumb fun in the spirit of Wayne’s World and Flight of the Conchords (both of which could spawn another movie at any moment), this one is simply trying to conjure up some of the original flavour and chewy nostalgia. Adding some modern twists to rock ‘n roll with the times, it’s complicated enough to keep you guessing, familiar enough to ring true and breezy enough to abide. Doing just enough to validate its existence and not flunk, Bill & Ted Face the Music only just sneaks a passing grade.

The bottom line: Light

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