Time has not been kind to Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan, but, really, when has it ever been? “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” a sequel 30 years along a long and winding road, finds the boneheaded buddies from San Dimas, Calif., stranded in middle age, from which there is no escape. And time has only been slightly kinder to Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter, the now-grown actors playing Bill and Ted. Gravity has had its way in sagging chins and slower reflexes, wrinkles and regrets. But it’s OK — time comes for us all. That’s one of the messages of this sweet, dumb, unnecessary, and absurdly charming movie.
Do you need to have seen “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (1989) and “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey” (1991) to make sense of “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” which arrives at the Embassy, in Waltham, and on streaming platforms this week? Absolutely, but less to understand the plot than to familiarize yourself with the Bill & Ted vibe, which is uniquely stupid, fairly smart, and above all good-natured. The original film had the duo availing themselves of a time-traveling phone booth from the future to rifle the past of famous figures — Napoleon, Billy the Kid, Joan of Arc, “So-crates” — in order to pass a high school history exam. The stakes are only slightly higher this go-round. They have roughly 90 minutes — the film’s running time, conveniently — to compose a song so good that it will stop all of reality from collapsing in on itself.
In this, they’re abetted not by their wives (Erinn Hayes and Jayma Mays, sadly as superfluous as Diane Franklin and Kimberley Kates were in the first movie) but by Ted’s daughter, Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Bill’s daughter, Thea (Samara Weaving). They’re as enthusiastic as their dads about obscure pockets of rock ’n’ roll history if rather more on the ball.
Thirty years ago, we were assured the heroes would unite humanity and pave the way for a glorious future through their musical career. It didn’t really happen — their power-metal band, the Wyld Stallyns, had some hits, then fizzled — and the future is ticked. The Great Leader (Holland Taylor) dispatches her daughter Kelly (Kristen Schaal) back several centuries to our modern day to light a fire under the duo.
With stellar Bill and Ted logic, the two assume that if they travel far enough into the future, they’ll already have written the tune that will restore the universe and thus save themselves the trouble of actually writing it. Some of the funniest scenes in “Face the Music” involve the heroes encountering progressively older and more bizarre versions of themselves, including a prison-yard sequence that may be the film’s highlight in terms of outré laughs and outrageous body modifications. Also, rocker Dave Grohl figures in here somehow. Don’t ask. This is a movie where rapper Kid Cudi, playing himself, is the designated authority on quantum theory.
Written by the original’s screenwriters, Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, and directed by Dean Parisot (“Galaxy Quest”), the new movie is as slapdash and sloppy as the earlier iterations, and if you don’t have a taste for the willfully silly, you’d best stay away. Even for fans, there are sour notes. All the supporting players from the earlier movies are back — William Sadler as a mopey Death, Hal Landon Jr. as Ted’s slow-burning dad, Amy Stoch as Bill’s ex-stepmom Missy — except the wives, who’ve been cast with younger women. The subplot in which the daughters go on their own time-bender to create a super-band featuring storied musicians from the past — including Jimi Hendrix (DazMann Still) and Louis Armstrong (Jeremiah Craft) — has an undercurrent of blinkered suburban entitlement just barely papered over by the enthusiastic performances of Lundy-Paine and Weaving.
Still, those performances go a long way toward making “Bill & Ted Face the Music” hang together almost despite itself. Lundy-Paine in particular captures the slack-jawed cheerfulness of Reeves’s younger Ted. Back in 1989, “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” convinced me that Keanu Reeves is, among other things, the Black Labrador Retriever of movie stars, and Lundy-Paine honors that connection.
Interestingly, older Ted, as played by a 55-year-old Reeves, has exchanged that upbeat je ne sais quoi for a more grounded, sometimes even grim attitude toward the world. There’s a little bit of John Wick to this Ted, as well as a lot of life’s disappointments. By contrast, Winter lets Bill hang on to his doofus optimism through middle age all the way, it’s implied, to death’s door. The actor’s and his character’s high spirits buoy this metaphysical trifle of a movie and ultimately those of his costar and friend as well. And why shouldn’t they? Dude, Bill and Ted have already met the Grim Reaper, and he’s in the band.
BILL & TED FACE THE MUSIC
Directed by Dean Parisot. Written by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon. Starring Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Samara Weaving. At Embassy Waltham and available on demand. 88 minutes. PG-13 (some language).