Bill & Ted Face the Music

Bill & Ted Face the Music is hilarious for the first fifteen minutes. Then the plot kicks in and the laughs become fewer and further between. This series has had a divided reception from audiences. Some people love the original, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and felt let down by the sequel, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey. Others think the original is fine, but that Bogus is a better, more underrated picture. (I count myself among them.) This third and final installment tries to be all things to all Bill and Ted fans, combining elements from both previous entries while still adding something new. Maybe that approach makes sense on paper; on the screen, though, it's kind of a mess.

Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) are older now, yet still playing together in their rock band Wyld Stallyns. They've married “the princesses,” Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes) and Joanna (Jayma Mays), and each has produced a daughter. Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Thea (Ready or Not's Samara Weaving) are chips off the old block. It turns out that the dudes still haven't written the song prophesied to bring the world together. They're visited by Kelly (Kristen Schaal), the daughter of Rufus, who tells them that if they aren't able to produce the tune in the next seventy-eight minutes, the world will cease to exist.

Right here is the moment when Bill & Ted Face the Music goes off-track. Knowing they don't have the magical song, the guys decide to time travel into the future, when they do have it, and bring it back home. A screw-up necessitates them going even further into the future on a couple subsequent trips, during which they meet oddball older versions of themselves. Something else happens that requires their wives to start time traveling for their own mission. Then Billie and Thea decide to help their dads by going back in time and rounding up some of the greatest musicians the world has ever known to form a band. Later, everyone goes to Hell, which permits the movie to bring back William Sadler as the Grim Reaper. Oh, and there's a robot from the future sent to kill them.

The future Bill and Ted stuff isn't funny. It seems conceived to allow Reeves and Winter to put on wacky costumes and talk in accents. We never believe those are real iterations of the characters. The material with the daughters is a little better, hearkening back to the premise of Excellent Adventure, although not enough is done with the famous people they encounter. (No one is as witty as Socrates or Abe Lincoln in the original.) The stuff in Hell, meanwhile, is a callback to Bogus Journey that feels like fan service. Sadler is very good as the Grim Reaper again, so he at least elevates the rickety premise a bit.

Putting all of these varied elements together causes the plot to become needlessly convoluted. Too much is happening at once. In trying to wrangle these story threads together, Bill & Ted Face the Music bogs itself down. Jokes feel labored and the chemistry between the leads gets watered down. The fundamental ideas aren't bad. Seeing an older Bill and Ted -- who have generally (and appealingly) matured beyond their earlier shtick -- holds a great deal of promise. We want more scenes of them with their daughters, more showing how those goofy metal heads have grown in nearly thirty years. Instead, we get an overstuffed tale that largely keeps them separated from everyone else and occasionally doesn't play by its own established logic.

The actors are perfectly fine. Reeves and Winter clearly enjoy being together again. Of the supporting cast, Brigitte Lundy-Paine is the standout. She's a hoot playing what Keanu Reeves would be like as a teenage girl. Intermittent laughs can be found in Bill & Ted Face the Music, and the story mercifully picks up in the last twenty minutes. Having said that, a nearly three-decade wait for this reunion should have produced a movie that blows the minds of fans, not one that's overstuffed and only sporadically successful at earning laughs.

out of four

Bill & Ted Face the Music is rated PG-13 for some language. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.