The franchise’s long-awaited third entry is a harmless jaunt that lacks its predecessors’ novelty and surrealism.
Bill & Ted Face the Music has something of a mantra. Yes, a mantra. While the first two films of glided with their “whoa, dude” attitudes, 25 years have passed in the lives of the title duo (Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves). 25 actual, in-universe years, that is, and now these Wyld Stallyns have fallen off the charts. Suffice it to say that they’re much closer to the open mic circuit than any stadiums. It’s a wonder that Bill is still with Joanna (Jayma Mays) and Ted with Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes), but at least their daughters seem happy.
Meet Thea (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine). They’re exactly what you’d expect them to be on paper, their jobs as generational foils clear from the jump. You could almost say they’re crucial to the narrative. But while it feels weird to even mention narrative in a Bill & Ted movie, Bill & Ted Face the Music actually tries to shoehorn one in. “Some things aren’t clear until the very end,” the movie says time and time again as its motto. That, of course, is beside the point given that none of these jaunts should actually make sense.
While Excellent Adventure was novel and Bogus Journey was unabashedly bizarre, Bill & Ted Face the Music tries to have real stakes while rehashing the past. And what are those stakes? Well, to put them simply, the space-time continuum is in danger again. Bill and Ted learn they wrote a hit song in another timeline, and all will be safe only if the whole world hears it. Off they go to find it, accidentally dragging Thea and Billie in the process as the film jumps back and forth between the duos. The new kids actually have a decent presence, but as for the main guys? Not so much.
While Thea and Billie have an effortless friendship, they also seem excited by the given scenarios. Better yet, Weaving and Lundy-Paine themselves seem excited to be here, signaling what the movie tries to do by making their dopiness actually seem capable. Winter and Reeves, however, give what can in a bizarre twist of fate be described as inconsistent performances. The pair, especially Reeves, doesn’t seem all that enamored with the hijinx save for when they play permutations of their main roles. Whether it’s due to them or Dean Parisot’s direction, their energy doesn’t even make sense on a scene-by-scene basis too often.
While Excellent Adventure was novel and Bogus Journey was unabashedly bizarre, Bill & Ted Face the Music tries to have real stakes while rehashing the past.
Perhaps it’s intentional. Maybe Bill and Ted are meant to be a bit numb to it all with age. But Chris Matheson & Ed Solomon‘s script, especially in the hands of Parisot, can’t decide how bonkers or banal its conflicts want to be, which nullifies the overall absurdity. It doesn’t come across visually either; Shelly Johnson’s cinematography is flat in color and composition, robbing the movie of the engaging look it needs. With the technical shortcomings and underwhelming comedy hand in hand, it plays more like a Saturday Night Live parody than a long-awaited third installment.
That said, it’s all harmless. Its shifts in tone and themes beg the question of who the filmmakers’ actual audience is, but there are chunks here that carry the original’s amiability. Ultimately, the shame of Bill & Ted Face the Music is how it can’t decide whether to modernize itself of swim in pastiche. The back-and-forth is mechanical most of the time and marginalizes Weaving and Lundy-Paine’s presence, and it’s when they take center stage that the movie finds its stance. Maybe it is time for Bill & Ted to face the music. The freshness is lacking even with its supporting cast and cameos, and that is what still isn’t clear by the very end.
Bill & Ted Face the Music hits select theaters and VOD Friday, August 28.