Dir: Dean Parisot; Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Kristen Schaal, Anthony Carrigan, Holland Taylor. PG cert, 89 min
The Bill & Ted films are nobody’s idea of serious cultural milestones, yet three decades ago they unquestionably captured something of the sunny inanity of the age. Released respectively in 1989 and 1991, the time-travelling duo’s Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey today feel like relics of another era – one in which a premise that positioned two dim white male American teens as not just the dead centre of the cosmos but its outright saviours wouldn’t have been shredded on social media faster than you can say “Be excellent to each other, and party on, dudes”.
But even a time machine disguised as a telephone box can’t stop the march of history. And so 30 years later, give or take, we have Bill & Ted Face the Music – in which Bill S Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan (Keanu Reeves) are coming to terms with the fact that they might not, in fact, have been the most important people in the universe after all.
They’re now middle-aged and no longer remotely famous, and the song that would save the world they were always supposedly destined to write has yet to materialise. In other words, there’s a sense that time is getting short – and that’s before Kelly (Kristen Schaal), the daughter of the duo’s old mentor Rufus (the late George Carlin), informs them they now have just 77 minutes and 25 seconds left to complete said life-defining masterwork, or else the whole universe is doomed.
A comedy of unmet potential and unfulfilled dreams is a smarter excuse for exhuming the Bill & Ted legend than some of us imagined we were going to get – and writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon deserve credit for coming up with a genuinely worthwhile reason to allow their creations one more outing on the main stage. Alas, that core idea is basically all Face the Music has going for it, and the promised bittersweet encore quickly collapses into something resembling a wobbly charity reunion, which fans may find themselves trying their hardest to enjoy through gritted teeth.
Problem one, heartbreakingly, is that Winter and Reeves’s chemistry simply isn’t there: this allegedly inseparable duo’s repartee now has all the warmth of a preliminary script read-through on Zoom, with the broadband signal dropping in and out. Possibly more awkward still are the pair’s respective teenage daughters, Thea (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine), who feel less like characters in their own right than feeble party-piece impersonations of their fathers’ younger selves, with mannerisms that could be spotted from orbit.
It falls to the girls to use Kelly’s time machine to assemble a history-spanning supergroup – Mozart, Hendrix, Satchmo and so on – who can perform the soon-to-be-legendary song their fathers are meant to be working on, but have instead decided to retrieve from the future, where they’ve already finished it. The two spool forward through their lives a few years at a time, meeting themselves as everything from bloated divorcees to twinkling elders, then make an unplanned detour to hell, where they’re reunited with Death himself (William Sadler, reprising his Bogus Journey role).
Both plotlines pootle along with little to no comic energy, while a further, thinly sketched thread in which our heroes’ unsatisfied wives (played by Jayma Mays and Erinn Hayes) scour the space-time continuum for happier alternative lives makes no sense at all, and purely feels like a means of keeping two middle-aged women safely out of sight and mind once the obligatory couples therapy skit is over and done with.
When Bill & Ted Face the Music was released on streaming platforms in the United States two weeks ago, that nation’s still-housebound critics described it as a welcome dose of optimism. But in a country where cinemas have reopened their doors and are crying out for strong new releases, it feels more like a syringeful of diazepam. The agonising wait for the sector’s next adrenaline shot goes on.
Bill & Ted Face the Music is in UK cinemas from today