Friday, September 18, 2020

Film Review: Bill and Ted Face the Music


Sometimes a lot of goodwill carries a movie further than it has any right to go.

That is the case with Bill and Ted Face the Music.  

Thirty years after they were supposed to unite the world with song, Bill S. Preston Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted "Theadore" Logan (Keanu Reeves) are nowhere near where they thought they would be.  Like many musical acts that have been left on the cultural ash heap, our heroes are playing smaller and smaller venues while exploring more and more experimental sounds.  Their lack of practical focus has been a strain on their wives (Erinn Hayes and Jayma Mays) and the scorn of Ted's father (Hal Landon Jr.).  However, they are idolized by their daughters: Thea Preston (Samara Weaving) and Billie Logan (Brigette Lundy-Paine), who carry their fathers enthusiasm for life, music, and friendship.  The plot kicks off when Kelly (Kristen Schall), Rufus' daughter, comes and brings Bill and Ted back to the future.  There, they are told they must produce the song that unites the world by that evening or the universe could end!

Yes, the premise is convoluted and silly, but Bill and Ted Face the Music never pretends to be anything other than convoluted and silly.  Like the other films, the plot has more than enough holes to be ridiculous.  But the power of a Bill and Ted film is that the leads are so likable and charming, that the plot holes don't really matter.

And that is still true for this film.

Winter hasn't lost a beat as Bill.  He still has the same wide-eyed energy and enthusiasm that he had decades ago and he never lets up.  Reeves is a slightly different story.  His performance is in now way bad.  But while Winter is still able to capture the innocent and optimistic outlook of his character, Reeves feels a little too hard-boiled.  He still comes off as kind and affable.  But there is always just a hint of John Wick peaking out of his eyes so that you get the feeling that Ted could make a dark turn at any moment.  Despite this, Reeves and Winter still have terrific comedic chemistry and have a wonderful rhythm like Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey.  

Weaving and Lundy-Paine take a larger role in the story than the trailers may let on.  They have their own B-story that feels very similar to Excellent Adventure.  Like their on-screen dads, the actresses are affable, but it doesn't feel as genuine.  Lundy-Paine in particular feels like she is doing a constant impression of Keanu Reeves from the original films.  Despite that, they understand that the key to these characters isn't that they are necessarily the funniest, but that they are incredibly endearing.  The movie pivots a little too much to the daughters and even though this move is telegraphed way in advance, it feels like a bit of cliche let down.

There is something unrelentingly nice about Bill and Ted.  That sounds as though it makes them bland, but it is quite the opposite.  They are like the buddies you had in high school who you enjoyed hanging out with, because they could always lift your spirits with their attitude.  That is why when Bill and Ted encounter increasingly dark versions of themselves in the future, it is particularly appalling and funny.  The movie explores that mid-life identity crisis where our characters have to decide how much they have to let go of their dreams of youth without morphing into something jaded and cynical.

Schall, Hayes, and Mays are fine and fit into the feel of the Bill and Ted universe.  Anthony Carrigan is a wonderful addition as an inept death robot sent from the future.  Carrigan is able to crack up the audience with his wide-eyed facial expressions.  William Sadler is also a welcome return as the over-the-top embodiment of death.

The movie does look like it was filmed on the cheap side.  The CGI looks like what you could find in a high-end fan film.  But the movie doesn't rely too heavily on these gags, but focuses on the silly comedy where it takes place.  He is able to make the movie sail better than Bogus Journey, but it never quite reaches the audaciousness of Excellent Adventure.  

The directing is serviceable, but nothing that will blow you away.  Dean Parisot knows how to visually bring these characters to life.  Writers Chris Mattheson and Ed Solomon (who have written all of the Bill and Ted movies), give the movie just the write tone.  There is a dumb, silly joke in the third act that is so stupid that I could not stop laughing.  But I think I was more receptive to the movie's silly humor because of all the good will that has been built up, especially from Winter and Reeves.  It is clear that everyone involved is having a good time making this movie.

The movie's themes are about how love and kindness, along with the power of music, can unite us as a people.  I remember when I was in high school, a mused to a friend of mine that I wished that there was a universal language.  She replied, "There is: music."  Without trying to get too deep, Bill and Ted Face the Music presents and optimistic message that what unites us all as human beings across all time is much stronger than what divides us.  And if we could someone communicate with each other, maybe by entering into the same song, we wouldn't be at odds all the time.  While this might be overly naive, you buy into it because Bill and Ted and the other characters are totally invested in this most excellent idea.

Bill and Ted Face the Music is not a movie that is earth-shattering in its importance or excellence.  It is just a movie that is filled with good times, good laughs, and good characters.  And with the amount of cynical garbage floating around the enterainment industry now, this movie feels like a breath of fresh air to remind us to be excellent to each other and...



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