Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey barely have any plot holding them together. What could a third film in the franchise, delivered three decades after the previous installment, really bring to the table?
A keen awareness of the passed time makes Bill & Ted Face the Music just compelling enough to justify its existence.
The first Bill & Ted movie came out in 1989, starring Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves as two high-school lunkheads who travel through time to put together a history-class presentation. Its sequel followed two years later. The newly arrived third film in the series, Bill & Ted Face the Music, directed by Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest), once again sends Bill and Ted hurtling through time and space, but this time, the heart of the adventure isn’t as flimsy. The two best friends are supposed to save the world, sure, but more importantly, they’re trying to save their families.
Now well into middle age, Bill and Ted (played once again by Winter and Reeves) have fallen from grace. Their rock band Wyld Stallyns has become a joke — their latest gig is at a family wedding. Their experimental stylings, including a song titled “That Which Binds Us Through Time: The Chemical, Physical, And Biological Nature Of Love And The Exploration Of The Meaning Of Meaning, Part 1,” are theremin-infused nonsense.
On top of that, their relationships with their wives, Joanna (Jayma Mays) and Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes), are beginning to fray, as the two men are apparently incapable of doing anything independently of each other. Meanwhile, Ted’s daughter Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Bill’s daughter Thea (Samara Weaving) are like carbon copies of their dads.
The certainty that Bill and Ted’s schtick might wear on the people around them after a while is one of the more interesting ideas that original Bill & Ted screenwriters Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon play around with. The two men are sweet, but they’re also terribly dim, either speaking in unison or finishing each other’s sentences, all with a “Whoa, dude” surfer-bro attitude that hasn’t changed a lick in nearly 30 years. Only the discovery that their wives leave them in a future timeline actually seems to get through to them. (Even couples’ therapy goes wrong, as Bill and Ted view it as yet another activity the two of them should do together.) Though they’re told at the beginning of the movie that they have 78 minutes to write a song that will save the universe from temporal collapse, the quest to save their families from falling apart is what really sets a fire under their butts.
Winter and Reeves somehow manage not to seem like they’re doing impressions of their old selves, as present-day Bill and Ted encounter older, more colorful versions of themselves as they travel through time. The future caricatures give them an outlet for the typically outsized Bill and Ted antics (even weirder accents and bizarre costumes), and allow them to keep the main performances relatively mellow and earnest by comparison, tapping into the bittersweetness that runs through the movie from its start. The film opens with clips from the first two movies, and it’s striking just how young the two leading men looked back then. There’s no denying the passage of time.
That’s theoretically where Billie and Thea come in, as the film is also a passing of the franchise torch to the younger generation. But the story doesn’t give Lundy-Paine and Weaving that much to do. Billie and Thea essentially relive the events of the first Bill & Ted, except with more of a musical-fandom bent, and they unfortunately don’t have much personality beyond their “Hey, dude!” affect. Their performances also underline just how remarkable it is that Winter and Reeves are still fun to watch after all this time, rather than grating. Lundy-Paine manages to disappear into her Ted impression, but Weaving (wonderful in Ready or Not) never quite manages the feat. The way Bill and Ted speak and act has become so iconic that mimicking them and making it feel natural is a high bar to clear, especially because their mannerisms were so over-the-top to begin with.
Like its predecessors, Bill & Ted Face the Music is ultimately just friendly fluff, but Winter and Reeves are charming together, and the need for Bill and Ted to grow up a little helps give the film a backbone. It’s a slight movie, but a sweet way of revisiting the franchise, and easy enough to follow for audience members unfamiliar with the first two films. (Though some of the appeal might be lost on them.) More significantly, it seems like a send-off for Winter and Reeves. Bill and Ted are still the Wyld Stallyns, but they’ve aged out of being wild stallions, and Bill & Ted Face the Music is at its best when it focuses on what happens when they finally figure that out.