Bill & Ted Face the Music

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Quick show of hands, did anyone actually ask for Bill & Ted Face the Music? Thought not, though here it is, around 30 years on from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and their Bogus Journey, back with its original stars, Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter, a good comedy director at the helm (Dean Parisot of Galaxy Quest fame), and with two talented draftees in there to provide new blood.

In fact Reeves expressed an interest in a new instalment as long ago as 2005. Original writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon climbed back on board soon after, and the project was ready to go for about ten years – the studio wasn’t convinced a “cult” movie would put the requisite bums on seats – but it took until 2019 for shooting to get underway.

As near as makes no difference it follows the journey structure of the other films, with the two now-middle-aged members of Wild Stallyns off on a quest to write a song that will save the world. And, realising they haven’t a hope of actually doing that, Bill (Winter) and Ted (Reeves) journey into the future where, they’ve been told, they have already written that song. All they have to do is find the even older versions of themselves, get the song and bingo.

Thea and Billie
Thea and Billie

Into the teleporting telephone kiosk they go, pursued by a murderous robot sent by The Great Leader (Holland Taylor), with their daughters close behind, who are on their own quest to assemble the perfect rock band, which will involve recruiting Jimi Hendrix, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Louis Armstrong, among others.

And following them, in an obvious last place, come the wives (Jayma Mays, Erin Hayes). Hey, this movie’s from a different era, everybody.

What an incredibly hit and miss film this is, long on enthusiasm short on actual big laughs, though the song early on at the latest wedding of Missy (Amy Stoch) – who has previously been married to both Bill and Ted’s fathers – is a blindingly funny car crash of mixed sources. Theremin, bagpipes, overtone singing and a trumpet being just part of it.

The dudes look good for their years, Keanu in particular looking about as limber as any 55-year-old is ever going to look – the John Wick 3 training standing him in good stead here – while “the wives” function exactly like the wives of Laurel and Hardy. They’re a pair of eyerolling harpies with a low opinion of their oafish husbands.

The daughters are a different thing altogether, Brigette Lundy-Paine and Samara Weaving as Thea (Bill’s daughter) and Billie (Ted’s) delivering exactly the jolt of electricity that they’ve been hired for. They are, in essence, Bill and Ted Mark II – their love of music, their use of dudespeak, the over-elaborate speech patterns, the relentless nodding while the other is speaking, the turning of the whole body when a simple twist of the head would have sufficed. Chips off the old block.

And as the film progresses, the dudesses, Billie and Thea, come to the fore as it becomes increasingly obvious that Bill and Ted’s encounters with their future selves are not what this film needs. What’s necessary is encounters with their past selves, when they were striplings. Still, Billie and Thea help plug that gap. They are the film’s killer app.

The Grim Reaper, in the shape of William Sadler, makes a return appearance as Bill and Ted journey through realms high and low – can you say Death also looks good for his age? – and Reeves and Winter have a bit of fun dressing up as alternative future versions of themselves.

It’s a lively film though not a particularly fresh one, best seen as the filmic version of one of those dad-rock bands doing a greatest hits tour. Some of it now looks quaint – a telephone box as a teleporter? Rock music saving the world? Rock music even as a thing? But it’s fitfully funny, relentlessly good natured and at 91 minutes doesn’t outstay its welcome. It doesn’t dare.

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© Steve Morrissey 2021

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