Alibi V.29 No.36 • Sept 3-9, 2020

Idiot Box

Party On, Dudes

Bill & Ted Face the Music on SVOD

Bill & Ted Face the Music
Orion Pictures

It’s clear, six months into the pandemic-induced Hollywood hiatus, that the movie industry is changing—at least for the foreseeable future. On a normal year, the summer blockbuster season would be wrapping up this weekend on Labor Day. Instead, in 2020, it never even happened. Now more or less resigned to sending their movies straight into people’s homes with streaming video on demand, Hollywood studios are starting to give up on the idea of opening major films in traditional movie theaters. For the majority of the 2020, studios have given us just a handful token releases, sending animated flicks like Scoob and Trolls World Tour to VOD or live-action kids’ films such as Artemis Fowl to subscription streaming services. But none of them were exactly “tent pole” releases (or remotely good, either). Disney became the first studio to blink big time, shipping its much-anticipated $200 million live-action remake of Mulan to Disney+ on Aug. 31 (where subscribers have the honor of shelling out $30 to watch it in their living rooms). Now Orion Pictures (currently owned by MGM) is following suit, giving the sci-fi sequel Bill & Ted Face the Music a dual theatrical/streaming release. Given that only about 60 percent of movie theaters are open across America, it’s likely that most people will be watching this third Bill & Ted outing in the safety of their own homes—further blurring the line between “movies” and “television.”

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure hit movie theaters in 1989. The low budget sci-fi comedy about a couple of teens trying to pass their history final with the help of a convenient time machine became a huge hit, making a lasting impression of audiences—particularly those who spent a chunk of the ’80s in high school. A sequel came along in 1991. After that, it was silence—aside from a couple TV spin-offs and some excellent comic books from writer/artist Evan Dorkin. But now, nearly 20 years later, much of the cast and crew have returned to give our boys Bill & Ted a most excellent send-off.

Face the Music finds our now middle-aged heroes, Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, of course), no less airheaded than before. But their trademark boundless enthusiasm has slipped a bit. It seems that, having been told for at least two movies that their musical output will one day inspire the whole of the human race to unite in peace and harmony, they’ve cracked a bit under the pressure. Over the last couple decades, they’ve gotten married and produced a couple of doppelganger daughters, but have failed utterly to compose the song that will alter the course of humanity.

A timely visit from Kelly (Kristen Schaal), the daughter of B&T’s time-traveling guru Rufus (the late, great George Carlin), reveals that not only must the boys come up with the monumental tune, but they must do so in the next 70 minutes or all of time and space will cease to exist. No pressure.

Bill & Ted try their best to buckle down and write the tune; but if they haven’t managed to do so in the last 20 years, they’re not going to do it in the next hour. So, as you might expect, they opt for the easy way out, stealing Rufus’ old time machine and traveling into the future where they hope to “borrow” the song from their future selves (who, presumably, will have already written it). The problem is, each future iteration of Bill & Ted finds the duo more desperate and down-on-their-luck, equally unable to come up with the essential tune and eager to exploit their younger selves.

While B&T jump forward, confronting their greatest fears of failure, their daughters, Billie and Thea (Bridgette Lundy-Paine and Samara Weaving), borrow Kelly’s time machine to collect a band composed of the world’s greatest musicians (from Mozart to Jimi Hendrix). For the most part, the film nicely replicates the silly, good-natured look and feel of the original, with Lundy-Paine and Weaving more or less mirroring the young Bill and Ted. (Lundy-Paine, in particular nails Reeves’ early “Ted” mannerisms and speech.) Face the Music doesn’t quite have the manic, colorful energy of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. I’ll go to my grave believing that Bogus Journey is hugely underrated. Writers-creators Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson pulled out all the stops, crafting a “Simpsons”-like pile-up of jokes on top of jokes for that second film. And director Stephen Herek gave the sequel a zesty, cartoonish look with inventive camerawork and loads of bright, primary colors. Face the Music, in comparison, produces more nostalgic smiles than explosive laughs.

But now is an awfully opportune time to tempt audiences with silly nostalgia. As its lightweight plot rolls forward, the film accrues a great deal of good will. Winter and Reeves are no longer the enthusiastic young unknowns they used to be. (This is particularly noticeable watching the first two films back-to-back with the threequel.) But by the time B&T 3 tarts them up as the increasingly outrageous future incarnations of their characters, it’s clear the actors are having a lot of fun playing dress-up. Unlike the title characters’ mythical tune, Bill & Ted Face the Music isn’t going to change the world. In the end, though, this goofy exercise in fan service manages to land on a sweet note sure to bring a smile to everyone’s face.

Bill & Ted Face the Music is available now for VOD rental through Amazon, Comcast Xfinity, DirectTV, Dish, iTunes, Vudu and other streaming services.