“Bill & Ted Face the Music” has a high-fluff effervescence. It’s about how Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves), those chuckle-brained metal heads who speak like Jeff Spicoli with a thesaurus, have just 77 minutes to travel through time and get the song — from themselves! Because they wrote it already! Whoa!! — that will unite humanity and save reality as we know it. As they trip further and further into the future, they keep meeting older versions of themselves, a variation on the doubling-up-of-identity-through-space-time stunt that the first two “Bill and Ted” films played with, only here it gets a major metaphysical stoned workout. Meanwhile, Bill and Ted’s respective daughters, Thea (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigitte Lundy-Paine), who are of course chips off the old blockhead, go back in time to gather a band of musicians that includes Louis Armstrong, Jimi Hendrix, Mozart, and Kid Cudi.
That sounds like a gloss on the historical-legend plotline of “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” and it is, but “Bill & Ted Face the Music” exploits it with an antic video-shell-game logic that toys with rationality and melts it down at the same time. It also melts your resistance. , it’s a surprisingly sweet-spirited love story (about Bill and Ted trying to live up to their marriages — though the real love story is, of course, the one that takes place between the two of them), and it’s a better tribute to the one-world utopian power of classic rock than “Yesterday” was. On a scale of one to 10, I wouldn’t say that “Face the Music” goes to 11, but it’s a most excellent sequel.
At the end of the ’80s, when they made their debut, Bill and Ted were a fabulous anomaly — a couple of space-cadet Valley Boys in a world of Valley Girls, though there’s no denying that Sean Penn’s performance as the blissed-out surf bum Jeff Spicoli got there first. Yet 30 years later, Bill and Ted now look like the grand marshals of a hallowed clan of suburban-idiot delinquent buddy teams they more or less started: Wayne and Garth, Beavis and Butt-head, Jay and Silent Bob. What unites all these characters, apart from the fact that they prefer their rock ‘n’ roll hard and their brains soft, is that they experience every moment of their lives as if they were watching it on television. Reality isn’t real to them — it’s a show they’re living inside — and “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” was a rowdy celebration of the joys of being young, hooked on air guitar, and totally blinkered.
How do the “No way!” mannerisms look on these two now that they’ve hit middle age? Surprisingly good. Bill and Ted are devoted husbands — to Joanna (Jayma Mays) and Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes), the medieval princesses they met in the first film — though a funny scene in couples’ therapy reveals that their symbiotic devotion to each other, in that life-is-a-garage-band way, has made them as infectiously arrested as ever.
But here’s an irony for you. In the years since “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and its inferior 1991 sequel, “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey,” Alex Winter did a slow fade out of full-time acting and became a heady, omnivorous documentary filmmaker (his films include “Downloaded,” “The Panama Papers,” and the upcoming “Zappa”), whereas Keanu Reeves remained an onscreen star with a touch of the “Whoa!” factor. Yet in “Face the Music,” it’s Winter, beaming and goggle-eyed, who still totally incarnates the cockeyed innocent gee-whiz man-child spirit of the thing. Whereas Reeves does a fine job of resurrecting Ted, but when he isn’t speaking and you look into his face, framed by that long neo-’70s hair, you see his gravitas peeking through.
“Bill & Ted Face the Music,” written by the team of Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon (who wrote the first two films), with Dean Parisot stepping in as director and Steven Soderbergh executive producing, has a countdown plot that unfolds in real time, like the film-noir narrative of “D.O.A.” It’s got scenes set in a flaming mountainous hell that looks like something out of a “Thor” sequel. It’s got a killer robot named Dennis (Anthony Carrigan), who under his ominous white-plated armor turns out to be as sensitive and companionable as Stuart Smalley crossed with the Cowardly Lion. It’s got a triumphant return performance by William Sadler as the Grim Reaper (he was the highlight of “Bogus Journey”), portrayed here as an imperious Euro-snob bass guitarist of hilarious vanity.
And it’s got Reeves and Winter having a field day playing the older renditions of Bill and Ted. Whether they’re faux-Spinal Tap derelict rockers squatting in Dave Grohl’s house, or pumped-up hardened prisoners, or ancient men waiting for each other to kick the bucket in adjoining hospital beds, these two find spry new layers of play in their weirdly angelic devil-horn communion. (It’s worth sitting through the end of the closing credits to see one of their highlight scenes.)
The film also has note-perfect performances by Brigitte Lundy-Paine and Samara Weaving as Billie and Thea, the daughters who have inherited every bit of their dads’ spirits, though it’s clear that they’re about three times as smart. Their corralling of immortal musicians from history starts off on a high, especially when Mozart jams with Hendrix (Dazmann Still) and Louis Armstrong (Jeremiah Craft). But the music legends don’t end up popping with quite the same gusto that Lincoln, Joan of Arc, and “So-crates” did in “Excellent Adventure.” What works, with divine silliness, is Bill and Ted finding themselves — literally and spiritually — through time travel. My favorite moment in the movie is Keanu’s delivery of the line, “In case you’re wondering, I’m essentially an infinite me. Catch you later!” The thing is, when he says it, you’ll know exactly what it means. That’s bodacious.
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