Bill & Ted Face the Music: An Antidote to Darkness 

We are all time travelers. We're not the kind that jump in a blue police box and teleport to the Aztec Empire, but the kind who go into the future one second at a time. It is what defines us. "Clearly, any real body must have extensions in four directions," wrote H.G. Wells in The Time Machine. "It must have Length, Breadth, Thickness — and Duration."

One thing that has had an unexpectedly long duration is Keanu Reeves' career. At least, it would have been unexpected in 1989, if all you had seen him in was Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Reeves had been acting for years, most notably as a pot-addled high schooler named Matt caught up in the murder of a classmate in 1987's River's Edge. Reeves used a simplified version of Matt to get laughs as Theodore "Ted" Logan in the slight, sci-fi comedy.

click to enlarge Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are back in Bill & Ted Face the Music.
  • Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are back in Bill & Ted Face the Music.

While the hit film made him a star, the role would haunt him. Reeves, in real life a serious actor who had done Shakespeare in his native Canada, was permanently associated with the airhead Southern California stoner persona. Even in 1999, when he starred in the epochal megahit The Matrix, it was hard not to hear Ted when Neo said "Woah! I know kung fu!"

In 2020, Reeves is one of the most famous people in the world, universally respected in the film community as that rarest of birds: a genuinely nice guy in Hollywood. These days, Reeves leverages his personae and immense physical talents as John Wick, the sad-eyed, retired assassin whose quest for revenge was prompted by the murder of his dog. But for years, there had been rumors and rumblings of a third Bill & Ted movie, doggedly pushed by Reeves' co-star turned producer, Alex Winter. Now, as theaters struggle to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic, Reeves and Winter return to the roles that made their careers with Bill & Ted Face the Music.

click to enlarge William Sadler (below, center) as Death goes solo, leaving Wyld Stallyns without their most excellent bassist.
  • William Sadler (below, center) as Death goes solo, leaving Wyld Stallyns without their most excellent bassist.

The dirty secret of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey is that, despite presenting as goofy comedies, they're actually quite well-written. After the thinly veiled socialist allegory of Wells' The Time Machine made time travel stories a fantasy fad, writers have gotten their kicks playing fast and loose with cause and effect. Part of the joke of Bill and Ted has always been that their wide-eyed naiveté allows them to instantly grasp the possibilities time travel offers. In the first film, they are a couple of metalheads about to crash and burn at a high school history class presentation when a guy from the future named Rufus, played by George Carlin in one of his final roles, appears to reveal their destiny: They will write a song powerful enough to unite the world in peace and harmony, ushering in a utopian new age.

When Bill & Ted Face the Music begins, it's 30 years later, and the pair of platonic life-partners are still trying to write that song. In the 1990s, their band Wyld Stallyns scored some big hits, once they got Death (William Sadler) on bass. But the classic lineup broke up when Death tried to go solo (there were lawsuits) and now Wyld Stallyns are playing weddings. But they never gave up on their quest to fulfill their destiny. They open their wedding set with a preview of their new song, "That Which Binds Us Through Time: The Chemical, Physical, and Biological Nature of Love, an Exploration of the Meaning of Meaning, Part 1."

Wyld Stallyns may have progressed musically, but the world is not ready for Ted's theremin acumen. His indefatigable spirit finally broken, Ted is ready to hang it up when they have yet another visit from the future. This time it's Kelly (Kristen Schaal, great as usual), Rufus' daughter, who summons them to a meeting with The Great One (Holland Taylor).

The future utopians are not pleased with Wyld Stallyns' lack of progress, and tell them they have only a few hours left to write the perfect song that will unite humanity. Naturally, their reaction is to travel to the future, when they have already written the song, and bring it back with them — leading to a series of hilarious confrontations with different versions of their future selves. Meanwhile, the duo's daughters Thea (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) set off on a temporal odyssey of their own to recruit the ultimate band to play their fathers' song.

I have great admiration for films that know exactly what they want to do and spend all their time doing it. These are dark, scary times, and all Bill & Ted Face the Music wants to do is entertain you for 92 minutes. It's light on its feet and consistently funny. But what makes it a winner is the fundamental decency of the characters. Bill and Ted never lost their idealism. All they want to do is rock the world, but when ultimate triumph depends on putting aside their rock star egos, they don't hesitate. We could use a lot more Wyld Stallyns in our world.
Bill & Ted Face the Music
is now playing online, at the Malco Summer Drive-In, Palace Cinema, and Hollywood 20 Cinema.

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