“Bill & Ted Face the Music” is arguably one of the most anticipated films of 2020. Though its leading stars (Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves) and director Dean Parisot maintained public interest in the project throughout its troubled production, a series of delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic seemed like they may very well seal the film’s fate. But once the film’s release through Amazon Prime was confirmed earlier this year, public debate rapidly shifted to whether “Face the Music” would live up to the exponentially growing hype.
Considering the pressure on the film to recapture the charm of its original installment, “Face the Music” plays it relatively safe with its premise and narrative decisions. Though it’s been nearly 30 years since audiences last saw the titular duo — during which they achieved and faded out of fame alongside their interdimensional rock band “Wyld Stallyns” — it’s revealed that Bill and Ted have spent their entire adult lives continuing their quest to write a song to unite all of humanity.
This pursuit has taken a toll on their marriages, but it has inspired their teenage daughters, Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Thea (Samara Weaving) to follow in their footsteps. When emissaries from the future return to warn them that their mission is more urgent than ever, Bill and Ted are joined by their daughters as they embark on a journey through time to finally fulfill their songwriting destiny.
It’s somewhat fitting that, as the conclusion of a time travel trilogy, “Face the Music” spends so much time indulging in the franchise’s past. At the same time, the film attempts to modernize its aesthetics for a new audience: Its rendition of “the future” has been given a slick white-and-silver coat of paint, and rapper Kid Cudi joins Jimi Hendrix and Bach as one of Bill and Ted’s anachronistic allies.
But despite these attempts, the film falls into a familiar reboot trap: “Face the Music” simply does too little to justify a return to its original material. Its ultimate failure lies in its lack of confidence to fully explore new ideas, resulting in a film that simply feels like a charmless and less effective cover of those that came before. In many ways, it’s a perfectly adequate, if bland, sci-fi comedy — but as the conclusion of a beloved series, “Bill & Ted Face the Music” feels disappointingly underdeveloped.
It’s evident that Reeves and Winter had a blast reprising their roles, but the film quickly runs out of novel ways to utilize these iconic actors. Between the main duo, their carbon copies (in the form of their daughters) and their many future selves that serve as antagonists, “Face the Music” is oversaturated with time-traveling stoner buddy pairs and unabashed dudebro optimism. Nearly every character given significant narrative agency is literally or functionally a version of Bill and/or Ted, quickly exhausting what little new material remains in their dynamic.
Other characters are similarly one-note: Death (William Sadler) is still mad at Bill and Ted for kicking him out of the band, and Dennis — the Terminator-esque robot sent from the future — spends more time comically introducing himself than he does progressing the plot. The result is a stunning lack of variety in the film’s comedy and a stale, predictable rhythm to nearly every scene.
What’s also disappointing is the film’s narrative — a stumbling and mostly familiar mashup of the previous two installments. The plot surrounding Billie and Thea is initially promising, yet it is so foreshadowed and predictable that it ends up having very little impact. And after an awkwardly shot and paced musical sequence, the film reaches an incredibly abrupt conclusion that creates more loose ends than it ties up.
Ultimately, “Bill & Ted Face the Music” is a wholly mediocre sci-fi comedy. Even at its best, it relies on imitation and rarely gives itself room to explore potentially interesting new material. In its most universally appealing moments, “Face the Music” may certainly invoke nostalgia for its previous installments, but it never feels like a satisfying standalone episode. Though it’s not enough to ruin the legacy of its titular duo, “Bill & Ted Face the Music” is hardly a film that will stand the test of time.