Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
BILL & TED FACE THE MUSIC
Rated PG-13, 92 minutes
Directed by: Dean Parisot
“Sometimes things don’t make sense until the end of the story.” This prophetic phrase is emblazoned on a pocket watch given to the two bodacious dudes at the heart of BILL & TED FACE THE MUSIC, and sets the movie up for a messy, maddening conclusion that fails to join together in the harmonious ways intended. This latest chapter has our beloved protagonists time-travelling once again to save the universe, leading the planet in song – a song meant to unite and heal the cosmos. What should be a buoyant blast of nostalgia winds up being a deflating realization that we can never go home again.
It’s not that these filmmakers have forgotten who these heroes are. The rockin’, righteous dudes remain fundamentally lovable, good people facing huge challenges and dire circumstances. It’s that the creators lose the thread of their characters’ conundrums. Even more disheartening is that the daughters are dealt short shrift in the process of telling this multi-generational story. This comedy winds up strumming too many wrong notes.
Best friends and Wyld Stallyns bandmates Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) are no longer at the top of the world. The chart-topper they thought would guarantee their success actually didn’t and their careers have plummeted in the 25 years since. Though their musically-minded daughters Thea (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) are eternally supportive, their long-suffering wives Joanna (Jayma Mays) and Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes) harbor a growing concern that their husbands have wasted their lives on the pursuit of rock stardom. But just as the bodacious besties are about to hang up their guitars, the future comes calling again.
Rufus’ daughter Kelly (Kristen Schaal) ushers Bill and Ted into the sleek, modern quarters of the High Ones, where they are dealt a blow by The Great Leader (Holland Taylor): their band has yet to create the prophesied song that unites the universe. Reality has begun collapsing in on itself, folding space and time, chaotically causing historical figures to blip into different places and eras. This news throws the guys into a frenzy as they’ve only been given a short window to write this new song and figure out where the prophecy says it will debut. As they set out to find their future selves in order to access this elusive, sensational track, their daughters catch wind of this and travel back in time to assemble a dream band of legendary musicians for their dads’ epic concert. However, not everyone is convinced the dynamic duo will succeed, and a robot assassin (Anthony Carrigan) is sent to eliminate the pair.
Prevailing problems cloud what are two clever, intertwining ideas for the third feature cooked up by stalwart series screenwriters Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon. On paper, the premise sounds like a hit: the dads work out their superficial and existential struggles as the daughters’ excellent adventure plays as a nod to their fathers’ original quest. Except in execution, it’s sloppy, never finding a toehold on a decent comedic rhythm or creative lyricism to make a cohesive, wholly satisfying sequel.
Bill and Ted’s psychological stakes are incoherently fleshed out. The Great Ones have always been portrayed as rational leaders who don’t meddle in our heroes’ missions and yet here, Taylor’s character does. Her blatant interference, sending a robot to kill them, seems like an illogical and forced nod to BOGUS’ rebel uprising. Thea and Billie are essentially personality-free, and, for the most part, exist to service their fathers’ arc. They have no memorable lines and nothing to distinguish one from the other. Their third act reveal is entirely predictable and doesn’t exactly feel justified as the set-up is clunky. Plus, the material doesn’t let them or their iconic musicians interact in the same genuinely funny, delightful ways as Bill and Ted did in the original EXCELLENT ADVENTURE when gathering their historical figures and transplanting them into a vastly different era.
Unlike the previous installment’s brief dip into horror-comedy, a spoof of Bergman’s SEVENTH SEAL, and general visual vibrancy, director Dean Parisot’s flat, uninspired look and awkward timing don’t make this chapter stand out as particularly indelible. A cameo from a world-renowned rock star (one I’ll refrain from spoiling here) is inert, lacking the hilarious punch that the appearance by Faith No More’s James Martin had in BOGUS JOURNEY. Jokes, especially those involving their future selves, land with a resounding dull thud and the emotional moments feel unearned and disingenuous. Sillier, broader comedic overtones yearn to be dialed up two notches, as do the undertones that emphasize the narrative’s latent, profound sentiments on life, love and legacy.
There are a handful of bright elements that manage to shine through, despite the lack of a compelling motor. They play the hits, of course, bringing back William Sadler as Death. His bit about his all-bass album being a flop garners laughter. Though the women playing the Princesses have morphed into younger actresses, it’s touching that Bill and Ted still love their wives and hold them in respectful, high regard. It’s also heartening that the wives don’t wait at home for their husbands either. While it’s mostly superfluous and seems slightly disjointed, their active participation impacts important events that transpire in the finale. There’s also some sweetness in the story’s tertiary thread relating to Ted’s rocky relationship with his disciplinarian father Chief Logan (Hal Landon Jr.) that offers closure.
Grade: 2 out of 5
BILL & TED FACE THE MUSIC will be released on demand and in theaters nationwide on August 28.