Even in an era stuffed with sequels that no one asked for and franchises that cannot be stopped, it’s a marvel that Bill & Ted Face the Music exists. Yes, the stars of the franchise—which include 1989’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey—have been talking it up for years, but it always seemed more like a pipe dream than a plan. No one needed another movie about two endearing SoCal metalheads with a knack for traveling through time and various dimensions, but in an era bereft of creative boldness, nostalgia for niche products qualifies as originality. So here we are.
The film meets back up with Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) in the throes of a mutual mid-life crisis, with their marriages to the princesses (in case you forgot, they picked them up in the Middle Ages) falling apart, along with their dreams of rock stardom. After rising to the heights of fame with their band Wyld Stallyns, the aging airheads are now reduced to couples counseling and playing local bars. They’re considering giving up music for good, when a visitor from the future (Kristen Schaal) arrives with news: For reasons mercifully unexplained, Bill and Ted have just a few hours to write a song that will save the world, and if they don’t, time and space will collapse onto itself.
Split between a sequel and a reboot, the script follows parallel plots. Daunted by the challenge, Bill and Ted travel to various futures to try to steal the song they will eventually write from their older selves. In these scenes, Reeves and Winter don heavy prosthetics and ludicrous wigs, but only one of them is up to the task. Often a mesmerizing film presence, Reeves has never excelled at modulation, and he feels well out of his depth in what amounts to a series of broad comic sketches. Winter fares better, disappearing under the make-up and wig work, and attacking his characterization with comic glee.
Meanwhile, their daughters, Billy (Samara Weaving) and Thea (Brigette Lundy-Paine), embark on a half-hearted retread of the first film, traveling to the past to collect legendary musicians that will form a supergroup and help their fathers fulfill their destiny. Much as the first film seemed designed as a hip history lesson for children, Bill & Ted Face the Music does the same for music history. The girls meet Jimi Hendrix, who turns them onto Miles Davis, who leads them to Mozart. It’s a neat idea, but the film fails to uncover any potential for comedy in it. It’s a problem that runs through the film. There isn’t much of a story here, and, outside of a welcome return by the Grim Reaper (William Sadler), there are even fewer laughs. Instead, it mostly relies on our delight at simply seeing these characters together again, unchanged after all these years.
I’d be lying if I said it didn’t work on me. Despite its many flaws, Bill & Ted Face the Music miraculously recaptures the spirit of innocence that is key to the whole thing. Just like its protagonists, it’s sweet, stupid, and imbued with an earnest belief that music can save the world. You can’t help but root for this film’s success. Consider its only major star: Reeves, currently enjoying a career renaissance with the John Wick franchise, has no business starring in a low-budget experiment like this one, but he clearly loves these characters, and love, as another rock legend once explained, is all you need.