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CINEMA: The Dudes Still Abide

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BILL & TED FACE THE MUSIC (directed by Dean Parisot, 91 minutes, USA, 2020)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Shrouded in rumor, and two decades of production delays, many fans feared Bill & Ted Face The Music was going to be a lot like the epic disaster that was Guns and Roses’ Chinese Democracy, when it finally hit screens. With word trickling out every once in a while, praising the concept or the script, touting it as a worthy successor to the series, which for the third film in a franchise is basically unheard of; the longer we waited the more they began to question these rumors as nothing more than insider generated hyperbole to get the project moving. But as the story goes, it was Steven Soderbergh himself, who is a producer on the project,  that we have to thank for finally getting this project moving. After loving the script so much he gave it that final push into production, so we could have one final excellent adventure with our favorite time traveling duo.

Bill and Ted Face the Music picks up with Bill & Ted 25 years after the events of Bogus Journey, with the duo having yet to complete their final task foretold by the “Great Ones” from the future: writing the song that would unite the world. Their band’s popularity has run its course and they’ve gone from filling the Grand Canyon, to barely filling taco night at the local dive bar. But when time begins to collapse in on itself, the pair are visited by the daughter of Rufus (George Carlin), Kelly (Kristen Schaal), who lets them know they now only have 74 minutes to write the song, or existence as we know it will cease to exist. From here the film splits into essentially two narratives. The first is Bill & Ted hitting the Circuits of Time to steal the song from their future selves, only to make things worse when they encounter several cartoonishly bizarre future Bill & Teds, a la Bogus Journey. The second features their two twentysomething music savant daughters taking Karen’s time travel pod and collecting historical musical figures to be in their father’s back up band, al la Excellent Adventure. 

Being a young kid into heavy metal in the 80s, Bill & Ted hit particularly hard in my preteen years. I was just starting to watch Headbanger’s Ball when the Bogus Journey soundtrack hit, and it was on constant repeat, that is, until Nirvana shattered the music world in the mid-90s. That being the case, I approached this film with great trepidation since I didn’t want to watch my heroes old, broken and disenfranchised. Instead the film begins with Bill & Ted still the consummate optimists, with the film using the completion of the song as the metaphor for that eternal plight of the unattainable dreams of youth. Bill & Ted, much to their family’s dismay are relentlessly trying to solve this puzzle they were tasked with, and it’s only when their daughters get involved and the world begins to come crashing down on them, that they realize the answer may have been in front of them all along.

The returning cast here are all known quantities, with Winter and Reeves still somehow embodying that youthful spark and radiating a knowing innocence. With the passing of George Carlin, who gets a great nod in the film, Kristen Schaal takes the reigns as their chaperone from the future. Schaal’s brand of awkwardness and dry delivery is an excellent addition to the cast along with Ready or Not’s Samara Weaving as Bill’s twenty something daughter. Samara is a joy to watch on screen with an endless reservoir of enthusiasm for any role she tackles and is honestly one the most talented new actors working today.

For fans of the series, the film keeps the cartoonishly goofiness you’d expect. Face the Music is hardly your slick big-budget Hollywood spectacle, and instead leans into its budgetary restraints which makes for some truly bizarre moments. Like when we witness a muscle clad version of Bill & Ted in prison, who attempt to kill our heroes for their phone booth. There’s a charm to how the camp is employed and given the script is by longtime scribes Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon it’s easy to overlook its shortcomings, since you’re completely lost in the story. It’s no easy task to combine two films that are so different in tone as Excellent and Bogus, but it feels natural here as the two stories have an ebb and flow here that calls back to some of the best moments of the previous entries. This all transpires with a charming wholesomeness that is downright moving as it really uses the relationships of Bill & Ted and those around them, to really give the film it’s warm and gooey center. Message: Be Excellent To Each Other!

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