It's always a huge gamble when Hollywood revitalizes a long-dormant property to try to cash in on nostalgia. The cinematic landscape is littered with failed attempts. Does anyone actually remember 2014's Dumb and Dumber To
, which reunited Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, but forgot to give them a script that was worthy of the 20-year wait fans endured to see them together again as their beloved characters? And the less said about recent attempts to bring old TV shows to the big screen, like Fantasy Island
, the better.
Which brings us to Bill & Ted Face the Music
, the third installment of a franchise that saw its last film hit screens back in the summer of 1991. The fact that the first movie even became a franchise always seemed like a bit of a fluke. 1989's Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure
was shot in 87, and was almost not released, due to the fact that the original distributor went under. But, against all odds, the film about two teenage California "dudes" who travel through time in order to pass High School History and secure the fate of the world (it kind of makes sense in context) became a big enough hit to warrant a sequel. 91's Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey
found the two guys a little older, but not much wiser, going on an adventure across the afterlife after they are murdered by evil robot replicas of themselves sent back in time from the future to destroy them, and alter the course the future will take. Again, it makes a little more sense when you watch it, but not much.
Being a preteen/teen respectively at the time the films were released, they naturally appealed to me. But as an adult, I enjoy them on a different level. They are both dumb films written by smart people. The characters of Bill and Ted may not be bright, but you can sense a certain giddiness and intelligence that writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon bring to the material. From references that fly over the intended teen audience's heads (When our heroes encounter Death during their journey in the afterlife, he is modeled after Bengt Ekerot's portrayal of the Grim Reaper in Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal.), to dialogue that is much slyer than it initially sounds, these are movies that can make different audiences laugh for different reasons. There is also a sweetness to the movies that you didn't find in a lot of teen comedies of the time, and still don't. Bill and Ted are not anti-social pranksters like Beavis and Butt-Head. They care about each other, the people in their lives, and they truly want to do good and make the world a better place. Their motto is "Be excellent to each other", and they genuinely mean it.
That's precisely what Bill & Ted Face the Music
understands, and why the movie works so beautifully. From the moment we are reunited with the main characters, played as always by Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, we instantly recognize them. Sure, they're middle-aged, but nothing else has changed. They still have their garage band Wyld Stallyns, they're still married to the medieval Princesses that they met during their time travel adventures (played here by Jayma Mays and Erinn Hayes), and they still are the closest of friends. So close, indeed, that the two guys show up together with their wives when they go to couple's therapy, and have a hard time saying the word "I". They have to say "We", because what Bill thinks and does, so does Ted. They are essentially one mind and entity, which may be a clever screenplay nod at the fact that reportedly Winter and Reeves always thought their characters were exactly alike, with little to set them apart.
From the first film, we've been told that one day Wyld Stallyns would write a song that would wind up uniting not just the world, but the entire galaxy into harmonious peace. This movie finds us in 2020, and that still has not happened. The Stallyns had a brief taste of fame in the 90s, but after some band disputes and disappointing album sales, Bill and Ted mostly are playing wedding receptions and open mic night at motel lounges. The only ones who still seem to believe in the duo are their respective teenage daughters, Thea (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine), whom have inherited their dads' extensive knowledge of classic rock music. Still, there is a sense that life has passed Bill and Ted by, which is a key theme in Face the Music
. It's always been about rock and roll and their future destiny, but now, everything in their lives seems to have taken a detour.
That's when they are visited by a time-traveling visitor from the future named Kelly (Kristen Schaal), who is the daughter of Rufus, the man initially responsible for Bill and Ted being introduced to their future destiny as musical saviors. Rufus was played in the first two films by George Carlin, and I am happy to say that fans can expect a fitting tribute here. Kelly brings the guys to the future to meet with The Great Leader (Holland Taylor), who informs them that time is running out for them to write the song that will unite the world. In just over 70 minutes, time and space will be ruptured and destroyed, and all humanity will be wiped out If the song is not written and performed within that time, the world is doomed. Seeing no other option, the guys decide to swipe a time machine and steal that song from their future selves.
Here is where the movie truly takes off. If the first 20 minutes are a wonderful reunion with these characters many have grown up with, then the main portion is an appropriately fast-paced and hilarious film where the two heroes keep on meeting alternate future versions of themselves, which keep on changing depending on different circumstances. I won't spoil anything, but both Winter and Reeves are clearly relishing the chance to play these guys in completely different ways in each vision of the future. Meanwhile, their two daughters decide they want to help their dads write the song, so they go on their own adventure through time gathering musical greats like Louis Armstrong, Jimi Hendrix and Mozart to create the ultimate band. All of these adventures will once again take Bill and Ted through time, through the afterlife, and have numerous run-ins with an insecure killer robot from the future named Dennis (a scene-stealing Anthony Carrigan), who seems to be suffering from self-esteem issues.
Bill & Ted Face the Music
is that rare Hollywood reboot that just nails everything that people loved about the original, while still giving them plenty new to admire. If you think I've spoiled too much in that description above, believe me, I have intentionally left a lot out. This is a goofy, sweet-natured comedy that has obviously been well thought out by returning writers Matheson and Solomon. They clearly have held onto a deep love for these characters for the past 30 years, and it shows by demonstrating that they still perfectly understand their universe. The same goes for both Winter and Reeves, who return to these characters so easily, it's almost as if they never left. But it is the movie's overall hopeful optimism that really won me over. The movie is so funny, charming, and ultimately just wants to sing the praises of creativity that it's kind of hard to resist.
Unlike a lot of attempts to bring old properties back into the limelight, there is not a trace of greed or cynicism to be found here. Everyone wanted to make this movie because they believed in it, and its message. It's the same message Bill and Ted have been imparting since 1989 - to be excellent, party on, and love the people in your world. Given our current times, I cannot think of a better message for a movie to bring to the forefront.