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Party on, dudes! ‘Bill & Ted Face the Music’

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One of the many unfortunate side effects of 21st century cinema’s affinity for franchises is the occasional appearance of the years-later sequel. These movies continue stories on which the book had closed a decade or more in the past. They are almost always bad ideas across the board, woeful misfires that fail to capture or even understand what made their predecessors so beloved in the first place.

Note that I said “almost always,” because it is possible for one of these films to actually prove to be a worthwhile continuation, a new chapter that both expands upon and embraces the legacy of the movie or movies that came before.

“Bill & Ted Face the Music” is just such a chapter. Reuniting Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves as the titular duo, the film captures the essence of what made these characters resonate 30 years ago while also allowing them to tell a different kind of story, a story of adulthood and the pressures of expectations and the challenges that come in a life that lacks balance … even as they remain in many ways the same amiably goofy dudes that they’ve always been.

It’s also a story of family and what it means to live up to a legacy, of how the next generation’s ideas about the world are impacted by those who came before, but not always bound by them. It’s about the frustration of having a path dictated for you and the disappointment when it proves too difficult to properly follow. It is weird and hilarious and moving, sweetly and unapologetically strange.

It was 30 years ago that Bill (Alex Winter, “Showbiz Kids”) and Ted (Keanu Reeves, “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum”) played the song that would ostensibly be the one to put the universe in harmony and define the future. However, it turns out that the song – while excellent and successful – was NOT the one that would unify the cosmos. In the decades since, the two have been on a quest to fulfill the destiny laid upon them so long ago – a quest that has been largely futile.

Bill and Ted remain inseparable, living next door to one another in San Dimas with their respective families. Their wives – the princesses Joanna (Jayma Mays, TV’s “Drunk History”) and Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes, “Holly Slept Over”) – love them very much, though both are somewhat frustrated by the arrested development of their husbands. Meanwhile, their kids Thea (Samara Weaving, “Ready or Not”) and Billie (Brigitte Lundy-Paine, “Bombshell”) are best friends and music aficionados of the highest order (not to mention very much their fathers’ daughters).

Unfortunately, time has run out for Bill & Ted. In the far-flung future, it is determined that without the song, the very fabric of the universe will tear and reality will collapse in on itself. Desperate, the Great Leader (Holland Taylor, TV’s “Hollywood”) sends Kelly (Kristen Schaal, “My Spy”), the daughter of Bill and Ted’s old mentor Rufus, to fetch the pair. When they learn that they have less than two hours to write the song, they decide to head into the future to steal it from future versions of themselves.

This goes about as well as you might expect.

Meanwhile, Thea and Billie decide to take matters into their own hands and venture out into the time stream, on a mission to assemble history’s greatest band in an effort to give their dads the best possible chance at success when the time to play the song arrives.

This too goes about as well as you might expect.

Two generations of Prestons and Logans, venturing in different directions through the time stream, hoping to make the choices necessary to save reality as we know it … even as their affable denseness continually lands them in various flavors of peril involving old friends like Death (William Sadler, “The Grudge”) and new ones like Dennis the robot (Anthony Carrigan, TV’s “Barry”) and some historical figures that I won’t name due to spoilers.

And all the while, the clock in San Dimas is ticking – and when time runs out, time REALLY runs out.

Very rarely is a film so utterly and completely aimed at me as “Bill & Ted Face the Music” is. As someone who was a teenage boy when the first two “Bill & Ted” movies came out, I fully admit to carrying a great deal of bias toward this movie. I LOVED Bill and Ted. And as someone who has also taken his own up-and-down journey into adulthood, I can certainly relate to the struggles that come with outside forces influencing our direction.

The truth is that I was just really happy to see my old friends again, to catch up with them and see how they’ve been doing. We’ve ALL been growing up, and not a one of us has done a perfect job of it.

The film is built largely around the undeniable friendship at its core, both in terms of the characters and of the actors playing them – no big surprise since the script is written by “B&T” OGs Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson. That central relationship is the reason those first movies are so fondly remembered; this latest entry continues it in a heartfelt and meaningful way.

Winter and Reeves are just so damned likeable as Bill and Ted, even as they play steadily more absurd versions of themselves. And they absolutely capture the logical development of these two weirdoes, illustrating the unwavering devotion of friendship. These aged dudes are a delightful duo, to be sure. What’s particularly great is the fact that Weaving and Lundy-Paine have high-octane chemistry of their own, funny and charming in a way that evokes Bill and Ted but never tips over the edge into mimicry.

There’s some fine work out of the ensemble as well, with Sadler and Carrigan providing a number of highlights. Schaal and Taylor are fun, as are Hayes and Mays. In addition, we get to see some more throwbacks from the first films (Ted’s dad or Missy are both here and I was surprised by how much that delighted me). New faces include Beck Bennett as Ted’s now-grown little brother Deacon and Jillian Bell as a couples therapist.

In case it isn’t clear, I was always going to enjoy “Bill & Ted Face the Music.” For me, just the fact that it exists is enough. But the thing is – it’s actually pretty good. Certainly better than these sorts of delayed-continuation sequels tend to be. It is a hilarious and heartwarming opportunity to check in with some old friends – the kinds of friends with whom you can simply pick up where you left off, regardless of how long it has been.

Be excellent to each other. Party on, dudes.

[5 out of 5]

Last modified on Thursday, 27 August 2020 14:35

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