If you’re having a hard time, Keanu Reeves in a top hat will cheer you up. This is the law.
"Bill & Ted Face the Music" did not need to happen, but it’s excellent that it did. After 10 years in development, the third cinematic installment of the franchise — after 1989’s "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" and 1991’s "Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey," with some TV spin-offs mixed in there — could either be a cash-grab sequel or a labor of love.
Literally who cares, though. Do you have a modicum of affection for any of these things? Please circle one: the original "Bill & Ted" movies; the 1990s as an amorphous pop cultural concept; serious Hollywood star Keanu Reeves at the whims of a makeup artist; absurdist time travel shenanigans; Holland Taylor doing scene work with a robot; tender meditations on middle age and the legacy we leave behind? If you circled one — you better have actually used a pencil, I’m watching you — then "Bill & Ted Face the Music" is for you.
We find our most triumphant heroes living a not-bogus life, all things considered, as obliviously happy middle-aged dads in San Dimas. Sure, Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Reeves) might be in couples’ counseling — together — with their beloved princesses Elizabeth and Joanna (Erinn Hayes and Jayma Mays). And yeah, their band Wyld Stallyns might have faded into obscurity, having never united the world through the power of song. OK, so perhaps life is a little bogus. But they’ve also managed to raise two good-hearted dudettes, Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Thea (Samara Weaving), dead ringers for their dads, who spend their days listening to all the most righteous tunes they can find.
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But what’s this? Time is folding in on itself, a most heinous turn of events. Kelly, an emissary from the future (the always welcome Kristen Schaal, filling in admirably for the late George Carlin as Bill and Ted’s handler), spirits the dudes away for a meeting with the Great Leader (Taylor, resplendent as she cosplays Whoopi Goldberg from "Star Trek: The Next Generation"). The boss lady tells our heroes that they have just over an hour to create a perfect song that will unite all of time and space and stop the collapse of reality.
I mean, come on. Things are dire in the real world right now. Does that not sound like a hell of an hour-and-a-half ride?
"Bill & Ted Face the Music" could never recapture all of the Gen X charm of the original films, both because of an inevitable 2020 studio sheen and because nostalgia is an intoxicant that should be regulated by the DEA. But gosh, this third film is dumb and fun and has so much heart. How nice it is to see these beloved, world-saving slackers age into really decent dudes who love their families and still want to make the universe right. There’s the meta appeal, too. Winter and especially Reeves have become known quantities for other ventures in the entertainment industry since they last stepped into their chronologically adventurous phone booth. So, yeah, it’s worth a giggle to watch John Wick play a theremin in a red tuxedo.
Billie and Thea get their own excellent adventure with a crew of time-tossed hitchhikers, and if there’s anything worth poking at in an almost review-proof movie, it’s that the plot could have spent even more time with the girls. Weaving’s steadily been making a name for herself in things like Netflix’s "Hollywood" and last year’s gleefully blood-soaked "Ready Or Not" — rent it! — and she’s obviously having the time of her life in an oversized Hawaiian shirt here. Lundy-Paine, though, really captures that je ne sais whoa, churning out a Cali valley charisma that’s honestly quite Reevesian. Plus, both look like they stepped straight off the "For You" page of my TikTok, so I tip my guitar pick to costume designer Jennifer Starzyk.
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Even at moments when "Bill & Ted Face the Music" feels almost too stuffed with shenanigans (Kid Cudi, hello), you’re never sad to see the sprawling supporting cast get their licks in. Particularly Taylor, who gets to say things like "Two-dollar taco night" and "Pull yourself together, you’re a robot" while stalking a monochromatic soundstage in Olenna Tyrell drag. Seriously, the costume still makes me giggle even after a good night’s sleep. And baby, William Sadler is back as Death, so all's right with the world. Death just wants to play some sick bass licks and damn some souls, as do we all.
As the movie reminds us, sometimes things don’t make sense ‘til you get to the end. We the people are in a temporal moment when nothing makes sense, or it makes too much horrible sense when you think it through. Why not settle in with old friends and watch the chaos fly for a bit, just until a really excellent song makes it all right in the end?
There are less excellent ways to spend your time.