Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter revisit Bill and Ted, racing against the clock to write the song that unites the world and returning to their time traveling ways. More than a clunky nostalgia fest, it put a grin on Steve Newall’s face for large chunks of the film, recapturing the spirit of its predecessors.
Despite coming nearly thirty years after Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure sequel Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, and having announced itself with some fairly awkward and cringey trailers, don’t make the mistake of thinking Face The Music is a clunky nostalgia fest. Instead, it put a grin on my face for large chunks of the film, offering more than just the simple pleasure of seeing Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves have another outing as a now middle-aged Bill and Ted (as welcome as that is).
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Refreshingly light on winking at its audience and ticking fan-service boxes, Face The Music catches Bill and Ted at a crisis point, having fallen from fame but still trying to write the song that’s prophesied to unite the world. It’s a quest that’s seen them explore diverse kinds of music, but it’s also rendered them a joke—both of these aspects hammered home in a hilarious musical performance at the beginning of the film that decidedly does not meet with acclaim, despite the er, dedication on display. They’re stuck, too, in their co-dependency, and their marriages are suffering as a consequence, despite having produced an awesome duo of daughters.
It’d be easy to leverage Bill and Ted’s predicament the wrong way, but the film resists indulging in cheap cynicism when it comes to their characters. They’re still the same loveable idiots seen in previous instalments, and Winter and Reeves’ clear love and commitment to these roles shines through, leaving no doubt we’re seeing the same dudes on screen, decades be damned. They get to have fun, as do we by association, in a film that they’ve wanted to make for a long time, as have returning writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, who clearly share the same motivation to capture the spirit of the previous films without slavishly recreating them or tarnishing what came before.
Having said that, the principal subplot does retread Excellent Adventure somewhat, as daughters Billie and Thea (Brigette Lundy-Paine and Samara Weaving, respectively) travel through time to put an awesome band together, but Face The Music has a purpose in doing so. It establishes them as strong characters in their own right, demonstrating what a couple of bright sparks who’ve spent their lives soaking up music can do, who from early on prove a much more interesting, assured and watchable duo than mere Bill and Ted clones of a different gender.
Their time travel mission frees up Bill and Ted for a parallel one of their own—to cheat their way to writing the best song ever by just stealing it off their future selves. While it’s a pleasure watching them completely commit to their main roles, its in the depiction of older versions of themselves that Reeves (and Winter, especially) shine, and where Face The Music dials up the absurd comedy as they face off with one another.
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As Bogus Journey grew the series’ mythology by making it darker and introducing William Sadler’s magnificent Grim Reaper (who welcomely returns here), so Face The Music expands it too. It lets us see a little about what happens when the future doesn’t get the outcome it thought was going to happen. And, crucial to some of my biggest laughs in the film, Face The Music introduces a new scene-stealer, brought to life by an unrecognisable Anthony Carrigan (Barry‘s similarly scene-stealing NoHo Hank).
It’s not all plain sailing. Sadly, the music in the film mostly sucks, and its supposedly most triumphant performance sucks most of all, a millenial whoop singalong that’s a letdown to hear. The film also comes to a close that’s so abrupt it can only just be called an ending because suddenly credits are rolling. Don’t worry, it’s not a cliffhanger—and definitely keep watching until after the credits for a final dose of Bill and Ted magic.
Their final appearance will reinstall that smile on your face again, one that will probably have been there plenty of times throughout this hectically paced pic. Face The Music has turned out to be better than it perhaps any right to be, recapturing the spirit of its predecessors, and might be the most fun you’ll have watching a movie this whole awful goddamn year.