Our enjoyment of Bill & Ted Face the Music may only be the direct result of living with a kind of background-grade dread for what feels like the whole of our adult lives. Those of us who will seek out and watch this third movie in the Most Excellent Adventures of Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winters) and Ted (Theodore) Logan (Keanu Reeves) are bound by nostalgia as much as a desire to suss out whatever scraps of joy can be found buried in our grim, harrowing reality. Sometimes, death and pain is unavoidable. Sometimes it just feels nice to lounge for 90 minutes in a universe where when you die you and all your loved ones just go to Hell and all the demons there are basically polite service industry workers so everything is pretty much OK.
Cold comfort and mild praise, maybe, but the strength of Dean Parisot’s go at the Bill & Ted saga is its laid-back, low-stakes nature, wherein even the murder robot (Anthony Carrigan, the film’s luminous guiding light) sent to lazer Bill and Ted to death quickly becomes their friend while Kid Cudi is the duo’s primary source on quantum physics. Because why? It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. There may be some symbolic heft to Bill and Ted reconciling with Death (William Sadler) in Hell; there may be infinite universes beyond our own, entangled infinitely. Cudi’s game for whatever.
We pick up with Bill and Ted and their wives, Joanna (Jayma Mays) and Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes), and their daughters, Thea (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine), 25 years after the events of their Bogus Journey. In that time, the lines defining who’s married to whom and which daughter is whose have been mostly blurred, the Preston and Logan households existing adjacently, Bill & Ted’s progeny now best friends by default and their progeny’s mothers united by both being medieval princesses who agreed to travel with their husbands through time to spend the rest of their lives in 21st century California. This dependence serves as the main source of conflict in Bill and Ted’s middle-aged lives: With Wyld Stallyns long ago deemed one-hit wonders, their careers floundering so severely that even Ted’s dad, retired police captain Jonathan Logan (Hal Landon Jr.), refuses to believe that decades ago his son traveled through time and the farthest reaches of reality to save the world with the power of song, our washed-up heroes must prove to their wives once and for all that they aren’t just codependent weirdos. (Ted’s dad is most likely jaded too by the fact that Ted’s brother Deacon (Beck Bennett) is marrying their ex-step-mom, Missy (Amy Stoch), their dad’s ex-wife, the wedding serving as the movie’s beautifully bizarre first scene.)
Flummoxed by couples therapy, Bill and Ted agree they should probably get real jobs or their wives will leave them—until Rufus’s daughter Kelly (Kristen Schaal) shows up to whisk them to the future and give them another time-spanning mission to embark upon, otherwise all of reality is done for. As they travel increasing distances into their futures to hopefully learn a reality-saving song they haven’t written yet from their future selves, their future selves grow increasingly antagonistic, each encounter between Bills and Teds a bleaker look at a particularly dark timeline for Alpha Bill and Alpha Ted to stumble down. Meanwhile, Rufus’s widow—and Kelly’s mom—The Great Leader (Holland Taylor) sends the aforementioned murder robot, Dennis, into the past to kill Bill and Ted to…prevent the end of reality, which is what Bill and Ted are also trying to do, so I’m not sure how that all adds up. Also zipping through time: Billie and Thea, doing their best to assemble a band of history’s greatest musicians—featuring Louis Armstrong (Jeremiah Craft), Jimi Hendricks (DazMann Still), a caveperson named Grom (Patty Anne Miller) and of course Kid Cudi—in an effort to help their dads perform the song they will have written to save all of reality. Weaving and Lundy-Paine provide bright-eyed counterparts to Reeves and Winter, who can wear their ages (both actors in their mid-50s) well without betraying any of their characters’ inherent innocence. It’s all pretty goddamned pleasant!
A lot happens in Bill & Ted Face the Music, but it rarely loses its breezy pace or unhurried sense of humor. Though it’s another Most Excellent Adventure with an ultimate time limit for our intrepid metaphysical explorers, Parisot and writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon (back for the third round together) allow for plenty of stakes-less character development and dawdling, unexpected asides. Introduced as a bland sci-fi trope, Anthony Carrigan’s Dennis evolves quickly into an existentially bereft humanoid deeply guilt-ridden over all the people he’s killed, though that’s the only thing he’s programmed to do, Carrigan’s every line delivery pregnant with a mix of dopey warmth and pathetic simping. It’s enough to distract from the movie’s sad and dumpy CGI, a slide-show of cheap computer-animated Zoom backgrounds and pixelated NPCs, or from its trite conclusion, which amounts to little more than that Gal-Gadot-curated “Imagine” music video crowdsourced care of the nostalgic Bill and Ted fans who’d be on board no matter what. Imagine all the people playing air guitar at the same time, you can do it if you try.
A sequel of rare sincerity, Bill & Ted Face the Music avoids feeling like a craven reviving of a hollowed-out IP or a cynical reboot, mostly because its ambition is the stuff of affection—for what the filmmakers are doing, made with sympathy for their audience and a genuine desire to explore these characters in a new context. Maybe that’s the despair talking. Or maybe it’s just the relief of for once confronting the past and finding that it’s aged considerably well.
Director: Dean Parisot
Writers: Ed Solomon, Chris Matheson
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Anthony Carrigan, Kristen Schaal, Jayma Mays, Erinn Hayes, William Sadler, Holland Taylor, Beck Bennett, Hal Landon Jr.
Release Date: August 27, 2020
Dom Sinacola is Associate Movies Editor at Paste and a Portland-based writer. You can follow him on Twitter.