It’s been 31 years since two California bros won the hearts of a generation with the time-travel comedy Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Two years later, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey seemed to sum up their saga with princesses, babies, and a newspaper montage that ended with them playing Mars. (Station!) However, history will be rewritten with Bill & Ted Face The Music, but not so drastically that fans might rile at the retcon.
Directed by Galaxy Quest helmer Dean Parisot, Bill & Ted Face The Music is set about 24 years after the climactic concert seen in Bogus Journey. This puts Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) in their 40s and struggling. Sure, their band Wyld Stallyns once threw down an epic concert, toured the world, and rocked out with Death himself. However, they haven’t yet come up with the song that’s destined to unite the universe, and the people of the future are losing patience with these Great Ones. So, Bill and Ted are given one last chance to write this song. While they race into their futures to steal it from themselves, their 24-year-old daughters, Thea (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine), take a time machine through the past to collect the ultimate band to play it. Along the way, historical hijinks ensue.
Screenwriters Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon are back again to finalize the franchise, and they have a great feel for what fans want. There’s a bit of retooling that ignores elements of the Bogus Journey ending, which Solomon has insisted were not penned by them. But by and large, this story falls in line with the world they created back in ‘89. For instance, the movie picks up with Missy (Amy Stoch), the hot stepMILF who is marrying once more. Other familiar characters pop up, including Ted’s ornery dad (Hal Landon Jr.), the princess wives (recast as Jayma Mays and Erinn Hayes), and Death (the wonderfully funny William Sadler). Bill and Ted go on a wild, time-traversing adventure, and for bonus bonkersness, they meet increasingly feral future versions of themselves.
There’s a cozy comfort in seeing the band get back together, both metaphorically and literally. Winter and Reeves have aged more than their characters, yet don’t miss a step when it comes to falling back into the surfer rhythms and signature head nods. When they reunite onscreen with Sadler, it’s electric. The comedy is breezy and unapologetically weird, while being tinged with melancholy. That’s what makes this entry suitably more mature than its predecessors. In those films, Bill and Ted were young men with big dreams and a reckless naïveté about their own limitations. That made them incredibly powerful and exciting to behold. Now, they are on the brink of mid-life crisis as they realize their greatness may not be inevitable.
While they desperately run from this possibility, the younger generation leaps in to provide the optimism and historic cameos. In this thread, there’s a clearly concerted effort to make this previously very white franchise more inclusive. Without spoiling the surprises, I’ll say this the historical figures that Thea and Billie pick up aren’t chiefly white dudes, and the greatest musicians of all time aren’t dominantly male. It’s an earnest effort. However, it can be a bit frustrating when the female musicians plucked from time aren’t given any lines.
Women do have a bigger role in this Bill and Ted adventure than its predecessors. Replacing the late George Carlin’s time-traveling mentor Rufus is Kristen Schaal, while Holland Taylor plays the Great Leader of the spacey future council. The princess wives get some things to say, though little to do. And Jillian Bell pops up in a thankless role as a couples counselor. So, most of the weight of female representation rests on the shoulders of Billie and Thea. Thankfully, these two are perfectly cast.
Weaving, who broke through last summer with the horror-comedy Ready or Not, dons overalls and a Hawaiian shirt, paired with a drop-jawed expression of constant awe. From her first frame, she is obviously Bill’s kid. As for Lundy-Paine, it’s uncanny how precisely they’re able to replicate Reeves’s ’90s physicality and vibe. The twinsies haircut helps, sure. But it’s chiefly in the way they squares their shoulders, allows their hands to hang heavy, and bubbles with a steady flow of contagious yet mellow enthusiasm.
These two are great together and when they get to interact with their onscreen dads. Sadly, while they are prominently crucial to the plot, Billie and Thea aren’t particularly developed as characters. We learn they’re 24, unemployed, really into music, so basically - they are just like their dads. And that’s meant to be enough, I guess? Perhaps it is greedy to wish for more in a movie that packs so much plot, jokes, cameos, and gleeful goofiness into 88 minutes. Still, it feels like with such a perfect quartet of casting of Bills and Teds, something more could have been wrung from this concept.
Overall, Bill & Ted Face The Music is a joyful, playful, and winsomely absurd romp. Matheson and Solomon imagined a satisfying and outrageous new journey. Reeves and Winter gamely reprised these wacky roles, then doubled down again and again. Sadler is once more sensational as Death, who is hilarious in his pettiness. With the thoughtful guidance of a Rufus, Parisot time travels us back decades to the nostalgic delights of this ’90s franchise. Then, Weaving and Lundy-Paine give us fresh reason for excitement. It’s fun. It’s funny. It’s (al)most excellent.
Bill & Ted Face The Music opens on demand and in theaters on August 28.
Epidemiologists do not think it’s safe yet to go to theaters even with social distancing and safety measures in place. This review of a theatrical release is not an endorsement or suggestion otherwise. This film was reviewed via a screening link.