Principal Cast : Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Kristen Schaal, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, William Sadler, Anthony Carrigan, Erinn Hayes, Jayma Mays, Hal Landon Jr, Beck Bennett, Kid Cudi, Amy Stoch, Holland Taylor, Jillian Bell, Win Butler, DazMann Still, Jeremiah Craft, Daniel Dorr, Sharon Gee, Patty Ann Miller.
Synopsis: Eternal slackers Bill and Ted return to the time-travelling phone booth to save reality after their musical career, once acclaimed as the thing which would unite the world, fails to generate the future-predicted utopia.
About three decades too late, the third film in the Bill & Ted franchise features the returning aged looks of Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter, both of whom look far too grizzled to tap back into the blank-faced, perpetually confused slacker mode they personified back in the 80’s, when both Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey guzzled box office receipts. To be honest, it’s hard to work out exactly why we needed a late-notice third film in this saga, other than simple nostalgia – which itself works to a point – but if the result of Hollywood returning to the well yet again is as good as Bill & Ted Face The Music gets, the creative abyssal despair we’re about to embark upon is one I’m not looking forward to.
Perennial rock-slackers Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Reeves, looking like a reanimated ghoul throughout this for no explicable reason) have hit middle age, and their long expected musical utopia has failed to materialise. So, once again, people from the future must step in and kick the boys into gear to save all mankind – or, in this film, reality itself. The daughter of Rufus (the late George Carlin, who is referenced posthumously in a brief but enjoyable sight gag), Kelly (Kristen Schaal) tries to exhort her garrulous mother, The Great Leader (Holland Taylor, vamping up a storm) to give Bill and Ted another chance, but her pleas fall on deaf ears. Instead, The Great Leader sends a pristine (but grossly inept) android assassin (Anthony Carrigan) back to the past to kill our heroes, who themselves are struggling with marriage issues (the princesses have finally figured out that their husbands really are hopeless) as well as feelings of failure over their stalled musical careers. Bill and Ted’s enthusiastic daughters, Theadora (Samara Weaving, last seen toting guns in Guns Akimbo) and Billy (Brigette Lundy-Paine) join the crusade to save the world by mirroring what their fathers’ did way back when: travelling through time to gather the greatest musicians of each age to perform a concert that will unite the world again.
Directed by Dean Parisot, the genius behind Galaxy Quest, written by the franchise’s stalwart scribes Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson, and boasting a cast most films would die for, on paper the stars aligned perfectly for Face The Music to be a massive hit. Returning actors Reeves and Winter play up to their ages, as does the return of several key supporting roles from Hal Landon Jr as a positively decrepit John Logan, Ted’s father, William Sadler as the scythe-wielding Death, and Amy Stock (formerly Amy Stock and Amy Stock-Poynton) as the sexually promiscuous Missy, but the film’s intended earnestness is lost amid a blitz of half-formed time-travel waffle and head-scratching off-the-wall humour. I think part of the issue I had with the film was simply that it had missed its opportunity – by arriving nearly 30 years after the last one, the “cool” factor these characters had has been lost in our CG-infested, terrorist-and-pandemic ravaged society and there’s no place left for harmless, stupid silliness of this kind. It just doesn’t play the same way.
The film’s plot kinda retreads a lot of the previous two films’ sweetly timed 80’s comedic zaniness, only here it feels regurgitated and worn out, lacking a freshness or zing beneath the onslaught of “look at how cool this link to the previous films is, aren’t we awesome? Oh, and here’s a cool white robot assassin thing for no reason” that seems attenuated on how awesome both Bill and Ted happen to be. Sadly, neither Reeves, who looks positively wrecked throughout, and Winter, who makes the most of his time back in the spotlight, seem really invested in the characters again (no matter what they might say off-camera, it’s what happens on-camera that counts) and the film’s focus on their kids, played to perfection by Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine (Downsizing, Bombshell) is where the film emerges from its turgid struggles and breathes life into things again. Both Billie and Theodora have a blast travelling back in time to pick up the likes of Mozart, Jimi Hendrix and Louis Armstrong to form the mother of all bands, and this wave of sci-fi fun kickstarts the film about thirty minutes into the story, following an interminable swathe of exposition bringing us up to speed. The film feels bipolar in this regard, treating Bill and Ted with a distinct lack of charm and their offspring with All Of The Charm to the point I was more invested in them than their aged fathers.
As you know from my reviews of the first two films, the first sequel wasn’t really all that good either, but at least Reeves and Winter weren’t terrible. Here, both actors have to resort to a variety of makeup and ageing effects to generate a few laughs. Some are excellent (a sequence in which they are incarcerated and impossibly buffed has to be seen to be believed) but some, such as a sequence inside the mansion of Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, are just laughable for all the wrong reasons. Winter tries ably, and to his credit exonerates himself for the most part, while Reeves looks shockingly bored and stiff, with Hollywood’s persistent demand for quality having worn out his ability to relax into that stoner-slacker charm. Sadler gamely reprises Death with a distinct lack of effort, and Holland Taylor deserves credit for improving the film by merely appearing in it; Kristen Schaal looks kinda lost, as do most of the musical figures we get to meet (none are as much fun as those we saw in Excellent Adventure, at any case), whilst the addition of the killer robot, named Dennis Caleb McCoy, feels like a weird pastiche of Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy’s Marvin the Paranoid Android, a Power Ranger and whatever Michael Bay masturbates to.
Look, as much as I wanted this film to be hilariously great, in truth I was left rather baffled by it. It’s not a terrible film, and features enough redeeming qualities to make it worthy of a recommendation, but it’s no world beater, and given the time that’s past between the Bogus Journey and this, you’d think they’d have come up with something… I don’t know, more fun. There’s an edge of post-millennial cynicism here that sucks the true joy out of Bill and Ted’s latest outing, a sense of a film trying to rekindle nostalgic chuckles (sometimes without success) as well as endeavour to move the overarching narrative of these vacuously simplistic films forward (equally unsuccessfully). It’s okay, a good film rather than a great one, which remains both its greatest feat and its most disappointing failure.