There's something unrelentingly yet genuinely wonderful about Bill & Ted Face the Music, the long-awaited topper to the wannabe trilogy that started in 1989 with Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and continued a couple of years later with Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey before the universe seemingly conspired to keep our righteous and good-hearted dudes from ever discovering their cinematic utopia.
In a year that has taken its toll on our hearts and minds, bodies and souls, Bill & Ted Face the Music feels like a cinematic lighthouse, or in this case a phone booth, that guides us through the darkness and toward the life we're already living but had somehow forgotten.
Bill & Ted Face the Music won't likely unite the world. It won't even likely unite the film critics, but Bill & Ted Face the Music is so undeniably the movie that we need right now that it nearly breaks my heart that I can't be hunkered down in some movie theatre sharing the experience with each and every one of you including the cynics, I'm looking at you, who are determined to consider this long in-development effort not much more than a money grab.
Bill & Ted Face the Music is definitely not just a money grab. There's simply too much heart here.
Remaining faithful to its roots without simply regenerating them, Bill & Ted Face the Music captures the essence of everything we've loved about these two likable doofus's tasked with saving the world through song whom we first met as teenagers and who now have teenagers of their own. If you've watched any of the recent Happy Madison films, you're already aware of just how easily the lovable doofus shtick can go wrong when former young adult stars turned fifty-year-olds try to stick with the same old thing.
It can be painful to watch.
It would have been understandable if Reeves, in particular, had respectfully bowed out of returning to the Bill & Ted universe given he's experienced a rather remarkable career resurgence as of late and there's nothing like potential Razzie material to derail the cinematic train.
Yet, Reeves and Winter both hung in there while holding out for just the right story to tell.
Thankfully, returning scribes Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon tell just the right story.
In a world where social media has become decidedly antisocial, the Bill & Ted message of "Be excellent to each other!" is a welcome one and one we most certainly need to hear.
Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) are still BFF's and they're still Wyld Stallyns, though their years-long task to write the song that will unite the world handed down to them by the impossible to replace Rufus (the late George Carlin), who is lovingly remembered here and represented by daughter Kelly (Kristen Schaal) and the now Great Leader (Holland Taylor), has resulted in not much more than a brief flirtation with stardom and now open mic nights and being the afterthought band on $2 Taco Tuesday.
The boys are now men with teenage dreamers of their own, Thea (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine), both of whom beautifully bring to life the Bill & Ted righteous swagger and unique linguistics. Both Bill and Ted are still married to their princesses, Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes) and Joanna (Jayma Mays), though their relationships are showing signs of tension and couples counseling proves, well, rather interesting and likely futile.
With Bill & Ted Face the Music, the dudes are running out of time to unite the world that is now at risk of disappearing forever if somehow they can't figure out how to save the day.
There's no question the familiar phone booth is back and there's no question our time travelin' bros will travel back-and-forth through the universe searching for the song they've always believed they were destined to write. Along the way, they learn just how close their princesses are to leaving their future broken bodies and spirits after lives spent chasing the future while ignoring the present. In the meantime, it's Thea and Billie who have the real Bill & Ted experience by chasing musical legends like Jimi Hendrix (DazMann Still), Mozart, Louis Armstrong (Jeremiah Craft), and others through history in an effort to help their dads and create the seemingly perfect band.
It sounds silly. It is silly. It's so wonderful.
Death (Bill Sadler) shows up once again in a rather delightful way, while a hesitant assassin robot named Dennis Caleb McCoy is played to endearing perfection by Barry's Anthony Carrigan. Rapper Kid Cudi makes an appearance that should feel awkward but is instead spot-on perfect. There are other cameos, as well, and yet they're beautifully placed and woven into the fabric of the story.
It almost pains me to think that there are people who will not like Bill & Ted Face the Music, a film with such a refreshing spirit and such a good heart that only cinematic grinches and burned out film journalists dare scoff at its utter charm and likability. It's not a perfect film, but the Bill & Ted universe has never been about perfection as it has been about the power of friendship, music, loyalty, and showing up. Bill and Ted don't make a difference in the world because of their music, but because they're Bill and Ted.
The truth is I laughed within the first five minutes of Bill & Ted Face the Music. The truth is that I also may have shed a tear or two as the story began to wind down and our wannabe heroes began to realize the truth about their mutual destinies. Both Winter and Reeves are a joy here, Winter perhaps more naturally returning to the Bill & Ted world yet both are so immensely likable and honest in their performances here that they draw you in and make you smile from beginning to end. Weaving and Lundy-Paine are similarly inspired here, nicely capturing the unique cadences and rhythms of their paternal counterparts while creating characters all their own. Lundy-Paine, in particular, is so dryly hilarious that they instantly demand their own cinematic universe.
Bill & Ted Face the Music won't likely cure the COVID-19 pandemic, though it's opening in a limited way in theatres alongside its VOD wide-release. It's not a cure all, yet it's an awesome and inspired and entertaining reminder that we're all a lot better off united and it may even be our more natural state no matter how powerful the divisions may seem to be. Even the closing credits of Bill & Ted Face the Music left me smiling, songs by Weezer and Blame My Youth perfectly wrapping up one of 2020's more delightful 90-minute experiences.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic