Someone once told me it’s harder to justify why you love something than why you hate it. As far as negative reviews for 1989’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, I won’t read them. Not because I’m closed off to hearing differing opinions, but because those opinions won’t change how I view the movie. My love for Bill & Ted is intangible; it’s my very own lightning in a bottle. It’s been my favorite movie for a vast majority of my life.
Thirty-one years later, the third installment, Bill & Ted Face the Music, takes place in the same film universe as its two predecessors, but looks nothing like them. Excellent Adventure and its follow-up, 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, fit so well within the time period they were released in. There seemed to be a specific sect of teen society during that era that embraced both mall culture and hair metal, and the title characters may very well be the mascots for the movement. Both films serve as an unintentional snapshot of the strange gap in the late 20th century where the Reagan-era was ending, but post-Cold War had yet to begin.
America wasn’t in limbo – they were pleasantly at ease, and this cultural relaxation bled through to many films and shows during that small window. The current America is a very different time and place, so it’s natural that Face the Music lacks those same aesthetics, but there’s a spiritual connection to the first two films that’s felt, at the very least on a subconscious level.
Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) have been prophesied by Rufus (played respectfully in hologram form by the late George Carlin), a man from a utopian future, to write a song that will be the foundation for society 700 years from now. A song so powerful it will end war and poverty and make communication possible between all forms of life. It was truly a most excellent fate.
Well, it’s been over 30 years and the duo has yet to write that song. Their band, Wyld Stallyns, had a nice run back in the ’90s, but that magical song never materialized. Bill and Ted, now middle-aged men, have both been down on their luck lately. They’re marriages to the princesses (Erinn Hayes and Jayma Mays) are rocky and they really have no life goals. Their entire dreams revolved around being in an epic rock band and saving the world, but now that dream is over and they have to face reality.
The leaders from the future send a new emissary, Kelly (Kristen Schaal), daughter of Rufus, for an audience with the “two great ones”, telling them they must come up with the song quickly or else space and time will collapse. In fact, they only have until later that day. Fortunately, Bill and Ted have access to another payphone time machine, so they’re able to hop around the future meeting different versions of themselves to try and find out what that song actually sounds like.
Face the Music brings things back around to the first film as historical figures are, once again, collected and brought to the present. This time, it’s their daughters Thea and Billie (played by Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine) who make the trip. They recruit Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, Mozart, and a few others to help their hapless dads write the perfect song. These musicians prove to be mostly pointless, but the adventure is fun, just not quite excellent. They’re never really given anything to do, other than to provide us with a callback to the first film, where historical figures such as Joan of Arc, Socrates, Billy the Kid, Genghis Khan, and Napoleon were brought back to modern day San Dimas, California.
This historical collection worked because they were placed outside of their element, confused and bewildered, and the actors who portrayed them were able to exaggerate the idiosyncrasies of his or her respective figure for comedy effect – something a little more taboo these days, so the results are a tad bit underwhelming. Back then we had Billy the Kidd and Socrates hitting on girls at the mall; here, we get more realistic, duller, portrayals of these famous figures. Where’s bodacious Abraham Lincoln when you need him?
Thirty years is a long time, even if you have a time machine, and Bill and Ted have been through a lot. Once known for their irrepressible enthusiasm, which propelled the charms of the original films, there’s now a sadness behind their eyes. Perhaps the fulfillment they thought they could get from music has become muddled throughout the years. They’re no longer able to access that same carefree childlike spirit as easily. We don’t really get to hear much about what has contributed to their attrition, but we do see the impact it’s had.
Face the Music doesn’t really tap into those existential matters, but is still far more introspective than its predecessors. Bill and Ted are no longer the two clueless Valley boys gracefully and effortlessly dealing with the insane pressures of saving the universe while perfectly (and inexplicably) managing the circuits of time with utter exactitude, they’re now given much more space to be conscious and reflect on things. This luxury wasn’t only unavailable before, but absent for the betterment of the stories. Here, they talk a lot about what decisions they’re going to make and actually seem torn up over it. It’s Bill and Ted’s Midlife Crisis.
As different as the first two films were, they were complimentary, both rooted in the same model: two idiots playing outside of their element with the greatest of confidence, and somehow managing to orchestrate everything to work out in the end, never knowing if it’s fate or that misguided confidence that’s lending the helping hand. Here they have a little less of that confidence and their sandbox just feels a lot smaller. Face the Music doesn’t tap into that same foundation, but I’m not really sure it’s trying to. This isn’t a film so engaged with its silliness that the audience can surrender their own expectations as well. There’s a thirty year gap here; a legacy to uphold. We’re no longer going to be caught off guard.
The situations in the previous two were dire, but they never felt that way. But thanks to special effects and the constant need for everything to be stylistically dark, those previously-playful stakes may feel a little bit too real this time. Written by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon (who wrote every film in this trilogy), the script feels more focused on the story itself than it does on carefree humor and crafting the banter we’ve come to know and love – especially from Bill and Ted, themselves. It feels like most of the comedy is being sourced from the supporting cast rather than the title characters.
Director Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) keeps the gags smile-worthy and the pacing breezy, but doesn’t always seem to grasp what makes Bill & Ted work. However, I’m not sure it’s due to any fault of his own. After three decades, this is probably the best third installment we could have gotten. Time has changed a lot and some aesthetics and moods can’t easily be recreated with special effects and good intentions.
Bill & Ted Face the Music serves as a fan film more than anything else – it’s been far too long to be anything else. Reuniting with these beloved characters, we sense the filmmakers and cast are having a great time making this movie and we get some closure as well. This production was made for people like myself, and while not entirely excellent, it’s nowhere near bogus. It’s never a bad idea to invite Bill and Ted back onto your movie screen and spend a little time with some old friends. And while not quite as pristine as its predecessors, there’s still a pretty good time to be had. Mission accomplished.