Bill & Ted Face the Music
(SPOILERS) Bill and Ted’s remissness has led to existence itself hanging in the balance, fiddling while the universe goes to pot. The duo are much like us, basically, ignoring the inexorable inevitable creeping up on them until it seems like it’s too late. It would probably be a stretch to accuse Bill & Ted Face the Music of predictive programming, given its long gestation period. But then again, this is a movie where the saviours of everything turn out to be women rather than irredeemably useless white men. And their lives’ “work” culminates in 2020, after which nothing will be the same again. As one of the few movies actually released in cinemas this year, it can’t help but invite a spotlight on any such elements. Whatever may or may not be the case with Bill and Ted Face the Music and the larger picture, it’s an infectiously uplifting experience. Writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon have lost none of their touch and don’t waste a moment of the compact ninety-minute running time, and director Dean Parisot is the perfect choice to bring a light but sprightly touch to the proceedings.
And Bill and Ted themselves? Alex Winter is a bit more weathered, but otherwise, his is an entirely consistent Bill S Preston, Esq. Winter has rarely acted over the past few decades, eking out a corner as a prolific director of documentaries, but Bill is a reminder of the very talented comic performer he is. He’s the energetic core of Face the Music and a delight at whatever age of Bill he is portraying (I particularly enjoyed his “English” and elderly incarnations). Keanu Reeves? Sad as it is to admit, the energetic verve has gone out of Keanu. He’s closer to Herman Munster playing Theodore “Ted” Logan. When he looks baffled, it’s more like Reeves the actor mulling his lines than an encapsulation of the innocent cluelessness of the Ted we remember. That said, Reeves is a hoot as his older, more “nefarious” selves.
It’s still a joy to see even a somewhat at-a-loss Reeves reunited with Winter, and even more so to have them running through Matheson and Solomon’s spectacularly bewildering causal conundrums. These arrive from the first with the exact nature of Missy’s (the returning Amy Stoch) current associative relationships to the Logan clan through having divorced Ted’s dad – the also returning Hal Landon Jr – and married Ted’s younger brother, Beck Bennett (not forgetting that Missy is also Bill’s former stepmother). In order to come up with the song vital to uniting the world (and thus preventing time and space from unravelling), they decide to travel forward in time so as to take the song from their future selves (which wouldn’t be stealing, in their incontestable logic, “if we’re stealing it from ourselves, dude”).
That’s the plotline with all the juiciest material, as they first meet their 2022 selves, then 2025 (posing as anglicised successes at Dave Grohl’s house), followed by their ridiculously pumped-up incarcerated versions and finally their care home incarnations in 2067. Meanwhile, their musicologist daughters Theadora “Thea” Preston (Samara Weaving) and Wilhelmina “Billie” Logan (Brigette Lundey-Paine) set off on a reboot of the first film’s mission, but instead of assembling figures for a school history project, they’re after a medley of musicians to aid their fathers in composing the elusive classic song.
Weaving and Lundey-Paine bring the necessary touch of their dads’ daffiness to their roles (the worst choice would have been to make them really, really clever). Before the picture was released, one sarcastic wag suggested that it would transpire that the daughters turn out to unite the world, in the spirit of retconning their fathers’ pervasive patriarchal oppressiveness. Which is basically what happens, even if the writers initially envisaged them as Bill and Ted’s sons (but didn’t think it worked). Albeit, Bill and Ted appear to be the ones who come up with sending infinite versions of themselves – and Princess Elizabeth and Prince Joanna, now played by Erinn Hayes and Jayma Mays, presumably because the original actresses were now a bit too old and unattractive – across time and space to unite everyone who ever lived in performing the song. There’s also that Thea and Billie admit it wasn’t so much the song that did the trick as everyone playing it. Which is as well, because the song’s… a bit shit, frankly.
Indeed, the best composition here comes at the start, the very, very funny Wyld Stallyns wedding performance of That Which Binds Us Through Time – The Chemical and Physical and Biological Nature of Love; An Exploration of the Meaning of Meaning Part 1. Much of the best material occurs early on, actually, even though I had a fixed grin on my face throughout. The couples’ counselling (“I mean, we’re a couple of couples, right?”) is another highlight.
Elsewhere, Solomon and Matheson perhaps haven’t put enough thought into making the likes of Louis Armstrong, Jimi Hendrix and Mozart funny/memorable in their own right (remember Freud/ Beethoven/ Napoleon/ Joan of Arc in the original?) As for Kid Cudi, I had absolutely no idea who he was and even now haven’t quite registered the reasoning for his inclusion. There’s also no proper adversary this time, probably no bad thing as it’s more in line with the original, but the mistaken machinations of Holland Taylor’s Great Leader are less than compelling. They do, however, give rise to the movie’s best new character in the form of Anthony Carrigan’s robot, Dennis Caleb McCoy. Carrigan’s as scene-stealing in his bashful ineptitude as William Sadler’s Grim Reaper was last time ("Pull yourself together, you're a robot!").
Of whom, it’s a joy to see Sadler back in the Death saddle, his appearance guaranteed when Dennis manages to kill half the cast and they end up down below – as, bizarrely, does Dennis, perhaps a shout out to ensouled AI. Matheson and Solomon even make moments of sincerity play. Scenes like making up with the Grim Reaper or expressing gratitude to their senior citizen selves manage to be funny and touching, such is the dopey-eyed enthusiasm of the picture. It’s also nice to be reminded of George Carlin in 2720 (I think we should be grateful a too-costly CGI scene with Rufus fell by the wayside). Carlin, of course, is an evergreen source of opinion on how the elite have reduced us all to the states of obedient sheep. Were he still alive, he’d doubtless have a whole lot to say right now.
Like a number of recent sequels – T2: Trainspotting, Blade Runner 2049 – this 29 years-later third instalment is, against all the odds, a more than worthy capper to our dippy duo’s run. At various points, the arrival of Bill and Ted Face the Music seemed pie in the sky, mooted for a decade and a half, with hit-and-miss attempts to get it into production for much of the past eight years. It’s most excellent that they final succeeded. Perhaps Bill and Ted can be sequestered to save our reality as we know it.