Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020) Review
NOSTALGIA OVER SUBSTANCE
In 1989, the film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure was released with the intent of bringing some minor laughs for the early part of the year, but wasn’t expected to be much other than a modestly average box office release. However, it ended up bringing in a sizable return; raking in roughly $40 million against its $6.5 million production budget. The film, which starred Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter, followed a pair of high school slacker buds (Bill S. Preston Esq and Ted “Theodore” Logan), who travel through time to assemble historical figures for their high school history presentation. Again, the teen comedy wasn’t expected to be so popular, but ended up cultivating quite its own slice of popularity amongst moviegoers as well as a cult following in the future years. Given the film’s success, a sequel was greenlit and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey arrived in theaters on 1991, with Reeves and Winter reprising their lead character roles. The film was a bit of departure last comedic jaunt; showcasing darker comedy humor and edgier tones with the two protagonist characters going off on another mischief adventure to Heaven and Hell. The movie received mixed reviews from critics and a few groups of moviegoers, but still managed recoup its money (garnishing $38 million at the box office against its $20 million budget) as well as continuing its cult following. Spin off both movies, a slew of Bill & Ted products emerged, including a cartoon, merchandise, and even a breakfast cereal, to fully capitalize on the teen comedy angst of these fictional characters. However, property of Bill & Ted soon became “dead in the water”; trending out of the popularity and of the spotlight, but still manage to be recalled from time to time by many fans of the first two movies as a sort of “sign of the times” of the last 80s / early 90s. Now, almost twenty-nine years after the release of 1991 sequel, Orion Pictures (as well as United Artist Releasing) and director Dean Parisot present the third feature film chapter in the Bill & Ted saga with the movie Bill & Ted Face the Music. Does the film find a nostalgia rhythm in amongst its fanbase or has the likeable charm of these two fictional slackers worn out decades ago?
Wyld Stallyns tried their best to bring the musical flavor to bring the world together with one hit song, but they couldn’t find the magic nor lyrics to conjure it. Now, over 20 years later, Bill S. Preston Esq (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) are facing a crisis in not just in their endless for continuing to find the one song to unite the world, but also in martial relationship with their medieval princesses’ wives, Joanna (Jayma Mays) and Elizabeth (Errin Hayes), who are getting frustrated with their husbands. Faced with this action and realization, Bill and Ted are suddenly confronted with Kelly (Kristen Schaal), Rufus’s daughter, who escorts the guys back to the future and are chastised by The Great Leader (Holland Taylor), reminding the two middle-aged slackers that they have 77 minutes to come up with the song that will unite the world of “The Unraveling” of space and time will destroy Earth and life as we know it end. Commandeering their old phone booth, Bill and Ted travel through time to meet their future selves to swipe the hit song they’ve already written. Elsewhere, Bill and Ted’s kids, Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Thea (Samara Weaving), hop into a time machine as well, traversing around the centuries to collect the ultimate backing band for Wyld Stallyn’s triumphant return. But will the combined efforts by both parents and kids be enough to generate the song to unite the world?
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Oh, Bill & Ted. A cult classic through and through. While I was born in 1985, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure came out when I was a bit too young to see it theaters… let alone carry about teen / adult themed movies as I was more interest animated properties more and / or TV shows aimed for kids my age. Still, as I grew up in the 90s, I remember hearing about this “Bill & Ted movie” amongst some of my friends and peers at school. Thus, I finally was able to see Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (I think I was eleven or twelve when I first saw it). Personally, I liked it. It kind of me reminded me of those 80s teen comedy movies and definitely had a splash of humor that was to my liking. Best part was Socrates with characters Bill & Ted calling him “So-crates”. Plus, I thought that both Reeves and Winter were memorable in their respective lead roles. Sadly, I can’t remember much about Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. I do remember seeing sometime after I saw the first film (maybe a couple months later), but I only vaguely remember bits and pieces about the film. As for its merchandise product line, I do remember seeing the Bill & Ted cartoon as well as a few clothing / toy lines for them. I did hear about the rather short-lived live action TV series, which was released during the summer of 1992 (a year after the release of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey) and only lasted for one season (seven episodes), but I didn’t have the chance to see it. Still, regardless of those points, I think that Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure caught lightning in a bottle with the studio fully capitalizing on its franchise success to the max.
Naturally, this brings me back to talking about Bill & Ted Face the Music, the long belated third theatrical installment of the Bill & Ted franchise. Like many out there, I thought that Bill & Ted franchise was done and a product of its times. That’s not to say that it was terrible or anything like that, but just felt that it just ended, especially since nothing new was coming from the franchise for the past decades or so. This is why I was bit taking “off-guard” when it was announced a few years back, with idea of third Bill & Ted always surfacing on the internet every now and again. Well, that rumor soon materialized into something really when it was announced that Bill & Ted Face the Music was gonna be released, with both Reeves and Winters once again returning to the project to reprise their roles. After that, I really didn’t much about the project until a few months back when the film’s first trailer was released, which certainly had a certain type of late 80s / early 90s nostalgia feeling. Thus, the movie was definitely on my radar to see when it was gonna be original release (in theaters) on August 21, 2020. Unfortunately, due to the uncertainty of movie theaters chain during the COVID-19 pandemic, the studio decided to release the project in theaters (those of which were opening) as well as on digital release on August 28th. So, I decide to purchase Bill & Ted Face the Music on Vudu and decided to give it a watch. And what did I think of it? Well, I have mixed feeling about this movie. While the nostalgia appeal is there and does have several bits that work, Bill & Ted Face the Music feels a tad underwhelming. It’s not a “bogus” endeavor, but not really an “excellent” one…. just stuck somewhere in-between.
Bill & Ted Face the Music is directed by Dean Parisot, whose previous directorial works includes such films like Galaxy Quest, RED 2, and Fun with Dick and Jane. Given his background in more comedy feature film endeavors, Parisot seems like a perfect and suitable individual to helm a third Bill & Ted sequel movie; approaching the project with a sense of inherit nostalgia and honoring what has come before. To be sure, Parisot shapes Face the Music keeps very much the same tone and appeal to what many viewers / fans would expect from a Bill & Ted endeavor, even if the project is very much a long belated sequel installment. For better or worse, the movie has plenty of goofy scenarios and overall silliness to make a viewer find amusing, with Parisot never really shaking up the established formula of the Bill & Ted franchise. What’s presented is nothing revolutionary nor original, but it definitely harmonizes with the past entries; primarily focusing on Bill and Ted’s latest adventure of saving reality and finding out how they created the song that will unite the world. In a nutshell, Parisot never makes the film too serious and that’s kind of a good thing, which allows plenty off-beat humor to take place as well as plenty of antics for the movie’s title characters (and supporting players) to goofy around and “rock out” to music. Again, its nothing new or original, but quite a fun premise to have in Face the Music and keeps the appeal of approachable and likeable with its lighthearted nuances. As to be expected, there are plenty of callbacks and nostalgia reference from the past movies and Parisot and company has plenty of fun in doing so as well as making the characters of Bill & Ted amusing within their middle-aged bodies of which still has their “slackers” personality. All in all, Face the Music, though it lacks substances (more on that below), manages to cultivate in a good-natured silly fun for a cinematic endeavor; something that speaks to the two previous Bill & Ted and works better than what it should. It’s kind of like a sequel that no one expected nor wanted, but it is indeed a welcoming one.
With a film budget of only $25 million, Parisot and his team smartly utilize what they have and give Face the Music has understandable and likeable presentation throughout the feature. Of course, the movie doesn’t have any super elaborate set-pieces or locations, but I didn’t expect it to be. Thus, what’s presented works within all the historical different time pieces that the film depicts in a passible way (i.e. nothing extraordinary, but not deplorable by any means) as Parisot gets the most “bang for the buck” in achieving this. This includes all the various sets, set decorations, and costumes for the film’s backdrop. Even the film’s visual effects, which are nothing particular great in compare to today’s standards of CGI wizardry, has a certain 80s nostalgia charm to it that keeps “in-line” with the rest of the Bill & Ted movies (i.e. slightly updated, yet still retro). Of course, the film’s music is quite important in the franchise and Face the Music does a good job in providing plenty of melodic bits and pieces throughout the movie, while the actual film score composed by Mark Isham gives a decent enough composition to accompany the film’s background aesthetics.
While the goofy / lightheartedness of this third entry in this series is indeed an invited and fun experience, Face the Music certainly does face a few critical criticisms and drawbacks that keeps the movie from reaching “excellent” status amongst its own franchise. Perhaps one of the most crucial elements that the feature can’t overcome is in its own story. How so? Well, why the narrative end point is quite clear and precise (i.e. Bill and Ted search for the song that will unite the world and reality), the journey getting there is rather bland and a tad bit convoluted. Not because the story is complexed or intricate, but rather because it is too cramped with its various characters and storylines to follow. What do I mean? Well, you have Bill and Ted as the main thread (naturally), but then you have their daughters (Billie and The Bill S. Preston Esq and Ted “Theodore” Logan hen a) on their own journey to find musical band members throughout history, then you have Kelly (Rufus’s daughter) and how she meddling in everything, and lastly you have Bill and Ted’s wives (Joanna and Elizabeth) and how they have to reconnect with their slacker husbands. It’s all well and good for the plot, but the intricating narratives of it all becomes confusing and never feel realized upon the concept, with some becoming shortchanged and half-baked. This, of course, makes the movie feels disjointed as the focus of each storyline gets pulled this way and that. In truth, I would’ve rather seeing Billie and Thea’s storyline as the central spotlight narrative than Bill and Teds.
Adding to this criticism is the simple fact that the story itself lacks a sense of urgency. While there is a climactic ending point of where the movie reaches, the journey getting there is rather lazy, with Parisot meandering through sequences of events without any type urgency, which creates the film’s narrative progression rather lackluster. Both of these problems also stem from the film’s script handling, which was penned by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, which seems not really thought out and becomes contrived in the movie. In truth, the script definitely lacks substances. Yes, I wasn’t expecting award-winning theatrical storytelling while watching this movie, but the main crux of the feature’s problems is that Face the Music heavily relies on nostalgia motifs and nuances rather than generating bulk substances within its plot. Plus, I do have to say that the film’s humor is rather forced. I did chuckle at a few parts here and there, but nothing about the various jokes and gags were worth a good “belly laugh”. Lastly, I do have to say that I was disappointed by the film’s ending. It kind of sort of ends and cuts to the credits. Of course, I wasn’t expecting a very long and drawn out ending conclusion for the feature, especially considering that this is a Bill & Ted movie, but I was expecting something a little bit more; something that offered up a type of closure to the film and possible the franchise (i.e a closing the story out as a trilogy of some kind). The movie just abruptly ends and feel like that the script handling by Matheson / Solomon just ran out of ideas.
What definitely makes the film elevate itself from these criticisms and shortcomings is that the cast of Face the Music. While some characters aren’t particularly innovated and / or creatively written, most of the acting talents selected in the movie definitely strengthen the movie and makes most of characters in the feature enjoyable. Perhaps the best and most certainly the most memorable ones of the bunch is in the return of Bill S. Preston Esq and Ted “Theodore” Logan or rather the reprisals roles of actors Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves. Collectively, Winters, known for his roles in Saul of the Mole Men, Freaked, and The Lost Boys, and Reeves, known for his roles in The Matrix, John Wick, and Point Break, have gone on into vastly different areas since they were last Bill Preston and Ted Logan, but they are still perhaps one of the best reasons for this franchise. Easily, both Winter and Reeves slide back into the music-loving / slacker personas with such fun and charisma joy. Of course, there isn’t much anything about the character roles beyond the obvious of both of them being more middle-aged slackers, but the pair seem to keep the ship (the movie) by the mere screen presence. It’s not Oscar worthy or anything like that, but I don’t think anyone was expecting it to be. Suffice to say, the chemistry of both Winter and Reeves as Bill and Ted works and is the true highlight of seeing them reunite in Face the Music.
Additionally, actress Kristen Schaal (Bob’s Burgers and My Spy) does a decent job in the role of Kelly, the daughter of The Great Leader and Rufus. However, despite Schaal acting, the characters feels a little half-baked and never fully utilized to her potential.
The argument can also be said for Bill & Ted’s two daughters (Theadora “Thea” Preston and Wilhelmina “Billie” Logan), who are introduced in Face the Music and certainly take centerstage in the movie (behind their fathers in the story), but they come across as a bit underwhelming the plot. Of course, both Samara Weaving (Ready or Not and Guns Akimbo) and Bridgette Lundy-Paine (The Glass Castle and Irrational Man) are up to the task and certainly do pull off a somewhat convincing offspring children to Bill and Ted, but the movie’s plot is too overstuffed that they kind of get shortchanged, despite their importance to the main storyline. Still, for what its worth, I like them in the movie…..I just wish they were more in it.
Likewise, Bill and Ted’s two medieval princess wives (Princesses Elizabeth Logan and Joanna Preston) feel more like a “plot point” and / or narrative construct in Face the Music and struggle to find their footing in the story. Of course, actresses Errin Hayes (Childrens Hospital and They Came Together) and Jayma Mays (American Made and Glee) give good performances in their respective roles, but their character arcs are pretty bland and almost as if there is something missing in the narrative and their arc got left on the cutting room floor. Somewhere in-between these characters is the character Dennis Caleb McCoy, an emotionally insecure, time traveling robot sent by the Great Leader to destroy Bill and Ted, who is a little bit “meh”. Played by actor Anthony Carrigan (Gotham and Barry), this particular seems a little bit underwhelming and his humor dialogue seems quite forced.
As to be expected, there are a few callback characters from the previous Bill & Ted movies and who actually proves to be the best is the return of Death / Grim Reaper, a personification character of death himself from Bill & Ted’s Bogus Adventure. With actor Will Sadler (Die Hard 2 and The Mist) returning to reprise his role after so many years, Death is quite the memorable character and ends up probably producing the most laughs in the movie behind Bill and Ted themselves. Additionally, callbacks from the previous movies includes actor Hal Landon Jr. (Eraserhead and The Artist) as Ted’s father Captain Jonathan Logan and actress Amy Stoch (Summer School and Mr. Student Body President) as Bill’s step mother Missy.
The rest of the cast, including Beck Bennett (Saturday Night Live and DuckTales) as Ted’s younger brother Officer Deacon Logan, actress Holland Taylor (The Practice and Legally Blonde) as The Great Leader, actress Jillian Bell (22 Jump Street and Office Christmas Party) as Bill and Ted’s therapist Dr. Taylor Wood, actor DazMann Still (Bull and Manifest) as Jimi Hendrix, Jeremiah Craft (Bull and Luke Cage) as Louis Armstrong, actor Daniel Dorr (Fury and Sabrina’s Secret Life) as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, actress Sharon Gee (The Do-Over and Oldboy) as Ling Lun, actress Patty Anne Miller (Songsbury Presents: The Trilogy) as Grom, and a somewhat humorous cameo-like appearance from Kid Cudi as himself, are in minor supporting roles in the movie. While most have fun in their respective roles, their characters feel rather “bland” in grand scheme of Face the Music, with their characters not being fleshed out enough (even by minor character capacity) or just feel underwhelming altogether. That being said, it’s clear that all are having fun being a part of a Bill & Ted sequel movie.
To save all reality for everyone, Bill S. Preston Esq and Ted “Theodore” Logan must go on a journey to find the song that unties the world in the movie Bill & Ted Face the Music. Director Dean Parisot latest film sees the return of beloved slacker characters (now middle-aged) and facing a new dilemma and revisiting the goofy antics and trials of which made these two particular individuals enjoyable many years ago. While the movie certainly does face a several challenges that it can’t tackle, which mainly consists of too many plot threads and a haphazard progression, the movie’s charm still manages to be enjoyable as a flawed yet good-natured endeavor, especially thanks to the film’s nostalgia references, goofy appeal, and Winter and Reeves’s charismatic reprisals. Personally, I though that this movie was okay. Yes, I agree it has plenty to offer in harmless goofballness of which made the previous two installment fun and enjoyable, but the movie lacks a proper direction and feels aimless and haphazard from start to finish. Still, over all…. I think it works more than it should, which is probably why I would probably give this particular movie a “rent it” as I’m sure the Bill & Ted fanbase will delight in its sequel endeavor as well as pacify the casual moviegoer who just wants to watch something mindless to watch and switch off their brain, especially with everything going on in the world. There is a possible continuation / spin-off endeavor option by the time the film reaches its end, but I personally don’t think that one is needed (i.e. don’t beat a dead horse). In the end, Bill & Ted Face the Music isn’t quite the most “excellent” sequel to draw critical acclaim, but its easy to forgive some of its flawed substance and welcoming its mindless nostalgia ridiculousness.
3.3 Out of 5 (Rent It)
Released On: August 28th, 2020
Reviewed On: September 28th, 2020
Bill & Ted Face the Music is 88 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for some language