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Bill & Ted Face the Music | Review

Songs from an Empty Room: Parisot Resurrects Beloved Slackers for Nostalgic Trilogy Capper

Dean Parisot Bill & Ted Face the Music ReviewThere aren’t any nonsensical yet iconic duos from 1990s pop cinema who were fashioned out of sillier frivolity than the eponymous Bill and Ted, here at last returning nineteen years after their last on-screen appearance with the long-gestating Bill & Ted Face the Music. Sure, there was Wayne and Garth, or Lloyd and Harry, both duos who also scored sequels (though Wayne’s World 3 has yet to transport itself through the endlessly recycling Hollywood machine), but even all of them had, arguably, more narrative fluffing than the time travel cavorting of the Southern Cali songsters born from Stephen Herek’s 1989 Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and then again in Peter Hewitt’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991).

Original scribes Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon return to present their titular characters as fiftysomethings, still more or less happily married in San Dimas, but now with teen daughters in tow who emulate the character quirks of their parents. This time around, Dean Parisot has inherited the reins, and much like the previous films (and both a 1990 and 1992 television series spin-off), is a narrative impervious to critique, mastered to capitalize on the nostalgic twinge inspired by revitalizing the famed characters. For fans of the original films, there’s perhaps much to enjoy, considering this isn’t material which can be expected to be anything more than fun, silly and frivolous. But where once these oddball narratives were novelty, it’s difficult to gauge what impact Bill & Ted now hold for younger audiences who might find their affect to be off-putting.

Nearly twenty years ago Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) were told they must write a song which would unite the world across all timelines. Unfortunately, they never got around to making that happen, though they still perform as the Wild Stallyns, usually at sparsely populated shows or family functions, such as the wedding we find them at in modern day San Dimas, California. But when Kelly (Kristen Schaal), arrives from the future to fetch them and bring them to her mother, the Great Leader (Holland Taylor), who are daughter and widow of George Carlin’s Rufus from the previous films, Bill and Ted are told they have seventy-seven minutes to concoct said track and perform it that evening. It seems time is folding in on itself, and historical figures of eons past are being unceremoniously yanked from their timelines to be displaced randomly throughout history. Since the Great Leader doesn’t trust the capabilities of Bill and Ted, she dispatches a robot alien named Dennis Caleb McCoy (Anthony Carrigan) to trail them. Meanwhile, Bill and Ted decide to visit their future selves to steal the track they know they must have written as successful musicians and Kelly alerts their respective daughters (Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine) of the impending doom if their fathers don’t succeed. As the children try to collect noted musicians throughout the ages, their mothers are also on a time travel escapade with the elder versions of themselves.


Certainly, Bill & Ted Face the Music is pure escapist fare, and perhaps, strangely, a bit more refined than Parisot’s last crash-landing into franchise with 2013’s RED 2—but this time around, there isn’t the same kind of cultish irreverence which the director was able to conjure in his 1999 sophomore film, Galaxy Quest.

Both Reeves and Winter deliver with their usual chemistry, and seem to be enjoying themselves, but the mimicry of their behaviors in their teen daughters gets tiring quickly, even though non-binary actor Brigette Lundy-Paine has done her Ted homework as Billie, nailing the physicality even when the script doesn’t rightly allow for her to do anything but mimic what Bill and Ted did in previous films through various interactions with historical figures.

The talented Samara Weaving, despite The Matrix connection as the niece of Hugo Weaving, feels a bit more out of place. The princess wives, this time played by Jayma Mays and Erinn Hayes, have little to do beyond representing the receptacles from which their daughters were born—and yes, Jillian Bell is mildly amusing as a couples’ therapist, but like Kristen Schaal and Holland Taylor, basically feels underutilized.

There’s a bit too much going on to focus on any of the three distinct time travel strands, but one wishes Solomon and Matheson had the foresight to include some subtext about ongoing problems with economic disparities and systemic racism to really bolster the importance of whatever it is Bill and Ted are doing as they unite the world throughout all time with song. Of course, the all-uniting track arrives, which sounds like an instrumental version of something by Arcade Fire, and all’s well that ends well, etc. Your interest to make it through the after-credits sequence, again, will determine whether or not you find this latest adventure of Bill and Ted to either be a lark or a nostalgic drudgery. Mostly, it’s a film which just seems to conclude, it is what it is.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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