Bill and Ted Face the Music

Bill S. Preston, Esquire (played by Alex Winter) and Ted Theodore Logan (played by Keanu Reeves) are back. Twenty-five years later, two of the dumbest high school students from San Dimas, California, who became time travelers and saviors of mankind, are now middle aged. They have yet to create the song that was going to maintain the salvation of the world (admittedly, a tall order) and are once again, up against the clock, as the preservation of the past and present (as well as alternate worlds) are riding on them. Also, even after all this time, Bill and Ted are still, like, totally dumb. 

The less said about the particulars of the plot, the better. As with the other two entries, original screenwriters Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson take their wild ideas as far as they can go. The “Bill and Ted” comedies have always been deemed “dumb fun” but the reality is that this is a witty movie about stupid people. It’s also good natured and genuinely charming.

It’s trippy to see “Bill and Ted Face the Music” open with the long gone but now resurrected Orion Pictures logo, a nice foreshadowing of the franchise itself. Since the first two installments, “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey,” are very of their time and have obtained comedy classic status, there was a lot riding on this, particularly the fear that it might, you know, royally suck. Thankfully, right after those Orion stars do their twirl in the cosmos, we see that the loopy sense of humor that made these films so winning is intact.

A quick synopsis of the prior movies helpfully informs the uninitiated and we’re right back in this world. Winter and Reeves are still up for this and their age doesn’t undermine their chemistry or willingness to dive into the absurdity of the material. Bill and Ted are still arrested in their development, still dreaming of goals they have yet to obtain and still finishing one another’s sentences and often speaking as one voice. Endearingly, so are their daughters, who, predictably, are also named Bill and Ted (they’re played by Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine, who bring wit to their roles and are adorable). 

These movies have always been silly, bordering on the level of a children’s film with racy humor (which was the norm for the late 80’s/1990’s). While the homophobia present in the prior movies is thankfully gone, a running gag about the marital status about Missy Preston (again played by Amy Stoch) is intact and still funny. The much-heralded return of William Sadler as The Grim Reaper is a big highlight, though it’s also worth noting that scene stealer Hal Landon Jr. is still hilarious as Chief Logan. 

As directed by Dean Parisot (whose best movie is still “Galaxy Quest”), this isn’t a cheap production but a big film with great, honestly Oscar-worthy visual effects and make-up design. There’s a nice nod to the late George Carlin, and to the way music remains a universal connective thread for humankind.

As for the leads, Reeves and Winter are visibly doing this as a labor of love; neither needed to make this movie and their commitment to the characters and its fanbase is admirable. If this third trip into the phone booth is imperfect, it’s at least not the be-careful-what-you-wish-for comedy downer that was “Anchorman 2,” “Zoolander 2” or “Dumb and Dumber To.” 

On the bogus side, there isn’t one great sustained set piece, which wasn’t the case with the prior films. The good laughs keep it moving, though this is more hit and miss than its middle installment (the Heaven and Hell sequences in “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey” represent the height of the franchise’s cracked brilliance). The ensemble cast is bigger than necessary, and Kristin Schaal doesn’t cut it in a key role. 

Once the big finale arrives, it presents a genuine surprise- it’s not a story twist but a matter of tone. The final moments are earnest and hopeful, in a way that makes this relevant for the world we live in right now. The sincerity of the closing moments are perhaps the film’s most unexpected touch and I’m grateful the movie went there. 

I don’t know when we’ll be going back into movie theaters but, for now, seeing a new movie at home is appealing. Most good movies, like this one, ought to be seen on the biggest screen possible but for now, having a new Bill and Ted movie that’s as charming and amusing as expected, is welcome cinematic comfort food.

If “Bill and Ted Face the Music” falls short of being most excellent, it’s still worthy of a righteous air guitar. Party on, dudes. 

Three Stars

originally published in Maui Time Weekly