It’s been three decades between gigs for those Wyld Stallyns William “Bill” S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Theodore “Ted” Logan (Keanu Reeves). Was it worth the wait to once again see these two knuckleheads be excellent to each other? Totally, dudes. When Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure debuted in 1989, The New York Times called it “painfully inept.” To paraphrase Bill, the movie, in which the duo traveled back in time to pass their high school history final (with some help from Socrates, Napoleon, Joan of Arc, and Abe Lincoln), looked “about to fail most egregiously.” No way. Audiences rallied behind these bumbling SoCal teens and made the movie a hit. The sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991), has a dire 54 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But by the time it debuted, the dimwitted duo were already cult-comedy figures, ready to battle Death in a game of Battleship. They’ve been staples of our rewatchable pop-culture diet ever since.
So what took so long to get a third Bill & Ted movie off the ground? For starters, the stars had moved on: Winter focused on writing and directing, while Reeves became an action icon with The Matrix and John Wick franchises. Yet returning to the roles that established them never left their minds, and age could not wither nor stale the iconic stoner characters’ infinite lack of variety. In Bill & Ted Face the Music, the fiftysomething actors prove that youth may be fleeting, but immaturity is a joy forever. With original writers Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson back on board and new director Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) at the helm, these slacker metalheads are ready to rock.
It’s a shock at first to see a middle-aged Bill and Ted reduced to playing the Elks Lodge to 40 people who are only there because it’s two-dollar taco night. The bodacious princess wives (Jayma Mays and Erinn Hayes) the boys brought back from medieval England are now understandably weary from living with two aging Peter Pans. But Ted’s daughter, Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine), and Bill’s look-alike progeny, Thea (Samara Weaving), think their dads are the coolest. They would, since Billie and Thea are both 24, unemployed, and living at home.
It takes a space pod carrying a visitor from the future — Kelly (Kristen Schaal), the daughter of Rufus (the late George Carlin makes a cameo as a hologram) — to warn Bill and Ted of their mission: They must write the ultimate song to unite the world by 7:17 p.m. that very night, or else ka-boom! That requires the boys to enter their time-machine/phone-booth again and assemble a who’s who of great musicians — including Mozart, Louis Armstrong, Jimi Hendrix, and even Kid Cudi as himself — to zap into the future, where Bill and Ted’s still unwritten anthem can save the world from unraveling. No one mentions Trump, but given that chaos threatens to undermine civilization and turn everything into a big bogus bummer . . . let’s just say his presence is implied.
Kudos to the irresistible teamwork of Winter and Reeves, the sly wit of Barry’s Anthony Carrigan as a robot tasked to kill Bill and Ted, and the return of the fabulous William Sadler as Death, who’s depressed because critics have dissed his unending bass solos as “all over the place.” Some will probably say the same thing about Bill & Ted Face the Music. They’re not wrong, but they may be missing the point. For Winter and Reeves — who play the title roles through the ages (“Your future you is a very pretentious dickwad,” says Bill to Ted) — the movie is a labor of fan-service love that slaps a goofy smile on your face. It’s a most excellent cure for the heinous pandemic blues.