So let’s all join hands and cram into a phone booth and dial our way back to the ancient, feral wasteland of 1989. Let us travel, specifically, to the parking lot of a police station in San Dimas, California, where Bill S. Preston, Esq., and Ted “Theodore” Logan did embark together on the single greatest depiction of time travel in cinematic history. I mean this with minimal disrespect to the Terminator franchise, Back to the Future, Looper, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Avengers: Endgame, or (one presumes) Tenet. But none of those flicks can hold a candle—or, like, a caveman’s torch or whatever—to the surrealist-dumbass comedy classic Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
Bill is played by the English actor Alex Winter; Ted is played by the slightly more famous Canadian actor Keanu Reeves. As directed by Stephen Herek, the movie is a masterful atemporal combination of 1985’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (outlandish whimsy), 1995’s Clueless (lovable SoCal dimwittery), 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Bill and Ted are proudly devolved sons of Spicoli), and 2019’s third season of Stranger Things (big mall energy). The plot at this point in the film is not important: Suffice it to say that the fellas need to break into jail and liberate their friends Beethoven, Socrates, Billy the Kid, Joan of Arc, Sigmund Freud, Genghis Khan, and Abraham Lincoln. (OK, the plot is kind of important.) They collected these new friends via a phone-booth time machine to get an A-plus on their high school history report, you see. They just need those keys.
Wait: They have a time machine. Can’t they just swipe the keys after their report and time travel back before this conversation and leave them here on the ground, which means they’re on the ground right now? Yes, they can, and will, and do, and already did. Bill picks up the keys. “So after the report, we can’t forget to do this, otherwise it won’t happen,” Ted cautions, before breaking into a huge, dopey, movie-star smile. “But it did happen!”
Just a stupendous plot device. I’ll do whatever I need to help me now, later. And the jailbreak is on; their time-travel life hack also proves helpful in, for example, providing a giant trash can to drop on Ted’s asshole-cop father’s head. Also, at some point in the future, they find the time to travel back to the past and leave an encouraging note for their present selves on a police-station typewriter.
Stupendous. The drawings just kill me. (Bill and Ted are in a hair-metal band called Wyld Stallyns. They rule.) Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is incredibly stupid and profoundly necessary; it is emblematic of ’80s and ’90s teen-movie culture right down to the school-assembly climax (Lincoln brings the house down), and yet there’s nothing quite like it, nothing quite as dopey, or shrewd, or winsome, or memorably bizarre. Same deal for the 1991 sequel Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, directed by Peter Hewitt and best known for the scenes in which our heroes escape from hell (they were murdered by their evil robot selves) by defeating the Grim Reaper (shout-out William Sadler) at Battleship, Clue, tabletop football, and Twister. More time travel: It’s The Seventh Seal crossed with Naked Gun 33⅓; your boys are Step Brothers from other mothers.
This all adds up to quite a legacy, which at long last continues Friday with Bill & Ted Face the Music, the third movie in the franchise, which just barely avoided taking 30 years to materialize. If you’ve read this far, it’s clear you really want to see it, and while I can’t in good conscience recommend going to a regular-ass movie theater right now, and I cringe a bit at this film’s initial $20-$25 price tag to stream or outright buy it, I think you oughta see it eventually, because you’ll probably love it.
To clarify, you will love Face the Music—directed by Dean Parisot from a script written, like its two predecessors, by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon—specifically for its faults, for its loopy aimlessness, for its familiar concussed bliss, and for its awkward newborn-foal stumbling even though the two foals in question first stumbled on screen more than three decades ago. Bill and Ted, who are tasked here with writing and performing a song that will unite the world throughout recorded and yet-to-be-recorded time, still have a tremendously charming and almost violently effortless rapport. The plot still doesn’t matter; it’s just great to see Winters again, and both jarring and weirdly soothing to see Reeves clean-shaven and goofy-haired and every bit his 55-year-old self.
(This Ted reminds me of Kyle MacLachlan as the evil Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks: The Return, which doesn’t suggest any malevolent and/or prestigious subtext here—it’s just a relief to see a middle-aged guy look middle-aged without quite making you feel terrible about yourself.)
Our story is, as always, a relentlessly random sci-fi farce that involves our heroes traveling forward in time to meet their alarming future selves at different times in their lives: the losers, the English-accent mansion crashers (super-random cameo), the muscle-bound prison inmates (shades of Weird Al as Rambo in UHF, another dumbass ’89 classic), and the sweetly withering nursing-home roommates. They are still married to the 15th-century English princesses they liberated in Excellent Adventure, and though these marriages are imperiled—couples therapy goes poorly—at least the babes now get to speak. The late George Carlin, a suave mentor from the future in the first two movies, appears briefly as a hologram; in his place, your costars include Kristen Schaal, Holland Taylor, Kid Cudi (!), and Anthony Carrigan, a.k.a. NoHo Hank from Barry. (He plays a killer robot, but don’t get too excited. He has one good line—“I lasered your daughters”—and spends the rest of the movie repeating his character’s name, which I assume really cracked Reeves up during the table read.)
Ah, right, the daughters. The first two Bill & Ted movies are linguistic masterpieces on par with J.R.R. Tolkien, Klingon, and Dothraki. The boys speak in an intoxicating sub–Valley Girl rhythm, heavy on adverbs (“We’re in danger of flunking most heinously”) and benign insult (“You killed Ted, you medieval dickweed”) and the doofiest sort of total serenity. (Bill on ancient Greece: “We were there. There were many steps and columns. It was most tranquil.”)
The first surprise of Face the Music is that Bill and Ted go easy on this trademark patter: Winters and Reeves play thoroughly adult and plainly exhausted versions of their former selves, not sleepwalking but also not straining to appear 30 years younger. There are flashes of the old loopiness, sure. Amy Stoch reprises her role as Missy, hot stepmom to first Bill (in Excellent Adventure) and then Ted (in Bogus Journey). She kicks off Face the Music by marrying Ted’s little brother (now played by SNL’s Beck Bennett), and Bill’s wedding toast—“Ted and I have known Missy in many capacities”—cracked me right up. But most of the humor from there lies in watching Keanu Reeves play the bagpipes and the theremin. (The Wyld Stallyns are musically adrift.) It’s a good joke. But don’t expect these fellas to do much heavy lifting.
Instead, we get Bill and Ted’s daughters, played, respectively, by Samara Weaving (she of Ready or Not) and Brigette Lundy-Paine (they of the minor Netflix dramedy Atypical). And here we luxuriate in the full, classic B&T experience: the dopey grins, the rubbery limbs, the junk food, the drawled semi-profundities. Their job is to go back through time and amass the band that will play the song that will unite the world, which comes to include Mozart, Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, and, among others, Kid Cudi (!!). As impersonations go, Weaving and Lundy-Paine are doing decent ones, and you can see the outline of the explicit “female Bill & Ted reboot” that would’ve made the internet extra-unbearable for months. It’s a much better idea smuggled in like this.
Yes, Mozart, not the original movie’s classic scene-stealer, “Beeth Oven.” There is no one joke in Face the Music nearly as funny as the way Bill and Ted mispronounced people’s names in Excellent Adventure, from So Crates on down the line.
But going into this movie expecting any one specific thing is not the move: The point is to be very gently and pleasantly baffled, to not quite understand what is transpiring on screen and to not quite care one way or the other. Bill and Ted is a franchise built on the ecstatic tyranny of low expectations. And like ancient Greece, Face the Music is most tranquil; having watched Keanu Reeves kill many hundreds of people in the John Wick movies, I’ve got a good sense of what it looks like when he’s working very hard, and it’s a thrill, honestly, to watch him just as aggressively relax. There’s something so soothing, so right, so genuinely emotionally affecting about how strange and weightless this movie is. The pleasure it provides is the simplest kind, the joy and familiarity of finding your keys right where you’ll leave them.