Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 8, 2020)
Back in 1989, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure nabbed about $40 million at the box office, a figure that landed it in 32nd place at the year’s box office. Though the film’s low $10 million budget meant it turned a nice profit, that still didn’t seem like the kind of gross that would ensure subsequent flicks.
However, Adventure found a nice audience on home video, and we got Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey in 1991. Despite a budget twice as high as the first flick’s, it made a smidgen less money, as it snared $38 million.
Given the increased costs and higher expectations, this meant Journey lost money and failed to connect with the anticipated audience. Thus the Bill and Ted movie franchise said goodnight.
Or it napped, actually, as 2020’s Bill and Ted Face the Music reunites our leads for the first time in almost 30 years. As the leaders of the rock band Wyld Stallyns, Bill Preston (Alex Winter) and Ted Logan (Keanu Winter) became huge stars.
However, the Stallyns fell on hard times over the years. Additional pressure falls on Bill and Ted because they need to write a song prophesied to unite mankind.
Desperate to fulfill this vision, Bill and Ted take the “easy way” out and hop through time to force other versions of themselves to compose this magical tune. In addition, their daughters Thea (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) jump into the time machine to attempt their own solution to this problem.
Not many film franchises attempt sequels decades after we last heard from them, and usually these entries disappoint. Given that the first two Bill and Ted movies revolved around the youthful enthusiasm – and dimwittedness – of the protagonists, I suspected Music would join that club.
The notion of two not-so-bright metalheads who romped through various fantastic misadventures worked because Bill and Ted were kids and you could forgive their cluelessness. Make Bill and Ted dudes in their 50s and they become pathetic characters.
Music walks a fine line in that regard. On one hand, it needs to retain the roles as we know them, so Bill and Ted still need to come across as somewhat dopey and blundering.
However, the film can’t indulge those elements like it did 30 years ago. Again, men well into middle-age who still behave like teens would offer a painful affair.
Happily, Music finds a way to balance these issues. While Bill and Ted maintain their youthful naivete, the movie manages to show some of the weight of the years on them. They may come across as less than intelligent still, but they don’t earn our pity.
It helps that Music focuses more on time-travel adventures than Bill and Ted in their 50s. While the first act – which becomes the slowest, weakest part of the film – gives us a look at the boys in their AARP phase, it doesn’t spend too much time on these topics.
Instead, Bill and Ted hop into that old time-travelling phone booth fairly quickly, and the movie takes charge at that point. Once this occurs, Music essentially becomes a mish-mash of the first two films, as it follows similar story beats.
On the surface, this should flop. We don’t need a sequel that simply remakes the first two flicks.
However, Music develops these elements in such a clever and engaging manner that our flashbacks to Adventure and Journey don’t matter. Though we clearly see the connections, Music brings enough of its own material to delight.
The presence of Bill and Ted’s daughters seems like a gimmick, especially because as performed by Weaving and Lundy-Paine, they often feel like caricatures of youthful Bill and Ted. However, they add a lot of life to the film, and despite the semi-emulation on display, Weaving and Lundy-Paine offer such enthusiasm that they work awfully well.
That goes especially for the hilarious Lundy-Paine. Sure, she offers the most overt impression of the predecessor character, but she channels young Reeves so well that she creates a witty role.
At first, Reeves and Winter can seem a little weary – like they can’t believe they’re still stuck with these dopes – but as the film progresses, they get more into the spirit of the events. In particular, they relish the chance to play “alternate Bills and Teds”, and the movie milks those opportunities for laughs.
Toss in a surprisingly sweet and sincere ending and Music turns into a very pleasant surprise. Fans of Bill and Ted should dig this reunion.
Footnote: stick around through the finish of the end credits for a tag scene.