Bill and Ted Face the Music (2020)
I have had some major problems with comedy movies over the last 20 years. The last one I can remember actually liking was Knocked Up, and to be honest that had a lot of the problems present that I have with current comedy films - an over-reliance on humor dealing with bodily functions (including ingesting such - even nearly 50 years after Divine took one for the team and did it for real) and, unfortunately, politics. It's not that it's my side that usually is the brunt of the joke; it's that the politics are in there at all. A mere decade after a comedy film comes out I feel like I have to explain half the jokes because the people they are making fun of are retired or dead.
Another problem is length, and not the length joke that almost every cookie-cutter comedy goes for. It's the fact that, unless you are Ghostbusters or The Blues Brothers and have something more to offer the audience than the handful of good jokes that survived the rewriting process, the magic length of a comedy is 90 minutes. You can usually get away with a few minutes either way, but 90 minutes is the general rule.
I knew that, no matter how it turned out, I was going to end up seeing Bill and Ted Face the Music. I recently watched Superbad, which had some funny moments, but again largely was chock full of why modern comedies fail me. The previous movies, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, were never perfect, but they were unique in that they presented characters that were instantly likable thrust into situations that were completely beyond belief. Both movies were full of surprises in the turns they took. There was a lot of intelligence behind them (as can be expected with Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon doing the writing), but critics that tried to take the time travel portions too seriously missed the point: Bill and Ted don't live in the real world, and generally have never had to. When the rules of the real world intrude, they typically overcome them.
Where Face the Music comes in is that, even though it's about 30 years later than it happens for most of us, the real world starts to intrude on that of Bill and Ted, and they are forced to face reality just as it starts to fall apart.
While their triumph at the Battle of the Bands in 1991 led to worldwide fame, the years have not been kind. In-fighting led to the Wyld Stallyns all but breaking up, with Bill S. Preston (Alex Winter) and Ted "Theodore" Logan (Keanu Reeves) relegated to playing Elks lodges and Ted's younger brother Deacon's (Beck Bennett) wedding. Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes) and Joanna (Jayma Mays) have about had enough, dragging their husbands into couples counselling, while their daughters Thea (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Payne) remain the only two people in the world that still believe in them. Even Ted is having his doubts, thinking that it is time he takes his father's (Hal Landon, Jr.) advice and give up music for a real job.
This all changes when Kelly (Kristen Schaal), the daughter of their mentor Rufus, shows up from the 27th century and informs them they have a mere 77 minutes to finally write and play the song that is to unite people throughout time and the universe - or reality will cease to be. Historical figures and monuments are already rearranging themselves throughout history, and Kelly's mother (Holland Taylor) decides that, instead of waiting for them to get their act together, it may be better if they are just outright killed to save the universe. To this end a robot (Anthony Carrigan) is sent back to kill them. Knowing that they're in trouble, Billie and Thea borrow Kelly's time machine to gather musicians from different points in history (and get Death [William Sadler] to reconcile with their dads) to make the best band ever, while Bill and Ted chase their future selves in hopes that they can get the song after it has already been written.
I expected the movie to be decent. Same writers, many of the same actors, and although it runs over some of the same ground of the other two movies, it adds enough to keep everything fresh and interesting. However, Matheson and Solomon, as well as Winter and Reeves, managed to pull off making a better sequel than Bogus Journey. Definitely still does not top Excellent Adventure (and I know there are a lot of people who think the second movie was better), but the benefits of having committed leads, as well as an actual budget, can't be disputed. While this could easily have worked its way to the logical conclusion presented in the first two films, it also manages to subvert those expectations as well.
There is a sense of nostalgia, but for me that was less seeing Bill and Ted again, but because of the humor that was present. Once again, for a slacker comedy, there are plenty of situations the duo get into that rise above the general material. Also, once again, although they are oblivious to most of the rest of the world, it's hinted at that they are far from the idiots a lot of people think they are. It's also probably the only movie where you'll see a musical showdown between Jimi Hendrix (DazMann Still) and Mozart (Daniel Dorr).
Face the Music does have some of the same pacing issues as the first two, largely with some meandering before the final act that feels like padding to get the movie around that 90 minute mark, and it still ends pretty much as abruptly as Bogus Journey did, although I find the ending to Face the Music much more satisfying. That it manages to do this without without anything coming out of anyone's orifices and without throwing in obligatory references to an orange guy that will be long forgotten by the time Bill and Ted find themselves at Shady Acres is even better - despite some amateur critics' efforts to bring politics into this, we happily get 90 minutes without them, and a third, and final, adventure with two of our favorite heroes from way back when.
Also, it should come as no surprise that I loved their experimental musical piece at the beginning, especially with their daughters dancing appreciatively in the background as everyone else stares in disbelief. I really hope that is on the soundtrack.
Bill and Ted Face the Music (2020)
Time: 88 minutes
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Payne, Kristen Schaal, Anthony Carrigan, William Sadler
Director: Dean Parisot
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