“WHOA!” – Bill, and Ted, together, in unison, at the same time, in “Bill & Ted Face the Music.”
When last we looked in on William “Bill” Preston Esq. and Theodore “Ted” Logan, those two cheerfully dopey and infectiously likable time-traveling slackers from San Dimas, California, had endured some wild rides with the likes of Socrates and Napoleon Bonaparte, were killed off by evil robotic doppelgangers and then eventually were returned to the mortal world just in time for their band, Wyld Stallyns, to resume its quest to become the founding rockers of a future utopian society.
Those adventures transpired way back in the late 1980s and 1990s. Since then, though Bill & Ted have become most excellent cult figures often referenced along the pop culture landscape, we haven’t really caught up with the boys since — well, since they were boys.
Now it’s time “Bill & Ted Face the Music.”
More than 30 years after Alex Winter (Bill) and Keanu Reeves (Ted) first teamed up for those excellent and bogus adventures, the duo has returned for a threequel. Clearly, director Dean Parisot and the writing team are fans of the first two films and have attempted to create a faithful third edition — but the result is just a bigger, louder, more special effects-laden extension of a franchise that skated on pretty thin ice the first two times around.
The first “Bill & Ted” movie was unbearably corny and just barely carried the day thanks to its snark-free spirit and the two charming leads. The sequel was a mediocre serving of warmed-up leftovers. Suffering through “Bill & Ted Face the Music” is like attending a reunion concert of a two-hit wonder band you loved in high school, and realizing their original material wasn’t all that great in the first place.
As we learn in an opening montage narrated by Ted’s 24-year-old daughter Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Bill’s 24-year-old daughter Thea (Samara Weaving), who worship their dads and even talk like them and want to be rockers just like them, Wyld Stallyns indeed topped the charts with a No. 1 single titled “Those Who Rock,” but not only did it fail to unite the world, the duo fell on hard times, the universe began to unravel “and time was folding in on itself.” Cut to scenes of Jesus disappearing from the Last Supper and switching places with Kid Cudi, and Babe Ruth (incorrectly portrayed as a right-hand batter) vanishing from home plate and switching historical spots with George Washington — and away we go on another silly and cheesy adventure, this time with Bill & Ted well into middle age and still desperately searching for a way to forever change the world with their music.
In one of the funniest scenes in the film, we learn Amy Stoch’s Missy, who was a senior in high school when the boys were freshmen before she married Bill’s father, has since divorced Bill’s dad, married Ted’s dad, divorced Ted’s dad and is now marrying Ted’s little brother Deacon (Beck Bennett from “Saturday Night Live.”)
“This would seem to make Deacon his own father-in-law, and Ted his own uncle,” observes Bill in a wedding toast.
“Not to mention making my dad his own son,” chimes in Ted.
Alas, the clever verbal byplay soon gives way to a bloated storyline about how Bill & Ted have been beating their heads against the wall for 25 years and still haven’t come up with that world-uniting song — which sets off a series of time-traveling storylines in which B&T encounter various (and often deadly unfunny) versions of themselves, while their daughters embark on a journey of their own in which they recruit the likes of Mozart, Louis Armstrong and Jimi Hendrix to form the world’s greatest band.
One ongoing problem with this franchise: There’s basically no difference between the Bill and Ted characters. Even in wacky froth such as the “Wayne’s World” films, we get two distinct personalities.
Thanks to archival footage, the late George Carlin is given a mercifully brief and totally unnecessary cameo as the time travel mentor Rufus. Kristen Schaal, often very funny, is stuck in a thankless roles as Rufus’ daughter Kelly, who is on a quest to save Bill & Ted so they can achieve their destiny, even as certain forces from the future have now decided the best way to save the universe is to knock off those underachieving goofs.
It’s a tossup as to which parallel time-travel story is the most cringe-worthy: Billie and Thea rounding up historical figures played by not-good actors, or Ted and Bill running into unfunny future versions of themselves while exchanging dialogue like this:
Ted: “Well if we haven’t written it yet but we know we’re gonna at some point, why can’t we just go to the future when we HAVE written it?”
Bill: “And take it from ourselves!”
Take that, “Tenet”!