Bill & Ted Face the Music

There have been some films in my lifetime where I’ve seen them in empty theatres, with absolutely no buzz in the media – or among friends – before or after, yet I have loved them utterly and, over time, they have become cult classics. The first Austin Powers is on that list. So is the first Bill &Ted film.

I saw the first Bill and Ted film – Bill &Ted’s Excellent Adventure – in the old Hoyts complex on George Street in Sydney. My older brother took me. We both laughed until we were sick. Bill and Ted were loveable dickheads and the historical figures they met made it feel like a very warped Doctor Who story. Heck, they were even travelling in a phone booth. The soundtrack rocked, too. So good.

The sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, had its moments but felt a bit darker in places which, to me, didn’t really suit what the whole Bill & Ted thing was about. That may sound strange, and I understand why sequels can’t just retread what the first film did but… yeah. I have a strange relationship with that film. Parts of it I think are great. Parts of it don’t work for me and, overall, it’s not a go-to film for me.

Over the years there were rumours of a new Bill & Ted film and even the leads, Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter, would talk about how it was a possibility. I always liked the way that Keanu, particularly, wouldn’t let it go. I reckon there’d be tons of Hollywood types who, with his kind of career, would sneer at the idea of going back and doing a sequel to something “stupid” and “small-fry” from earlier in their careers. Keanu has always struck me as a good guy, however, and his eagerness to do another Bill & Ted if they could get the right script / money / time to do it, said a lot about him as a person to me.

And finally, it happened. Bill & Ted Face the Music became a thing. Of course, being released in the year of Covid where most movies just got postponed again and again or, worse, sent to debut on a streaming service, meant that it wasn’t going to have the easiest of launches. Indeed, when you look at the rough figures of $25 million to make the film and just $6.3 million in worldwide box office, the film seems like an awful flop. But digital rentals were also available and in the first month there was over $30 million of those, and I’m led to believe film studios keep way more money from digital rentals than cinema releases. The numbers get a bit murky after that and I’m not too sure how much was spent on marketing and things, so whether the movie made any real money is unknown to me. But it did ‘OK’.

So what did I think? Well, we’re six paragraphs into this review, so perhaps I’m procrastinating. I certainly liked the film. Bill & Ted have changed from their younger selves, but still felt authentic. They felt like grown-up versions of themselves. So that was good. Their daughters were interesting, and certainly had a decent role to play in the film, but didn’t have quite the personality or impact of a younger Bill & Ted. The plot was a good idea, especially the leads meeting themselves in increasingly ridiculous scenarios. But did I laugh? Not a whole lot. Once or twice I gave a little snigger, but nothing really grabbed me as laugh out loud funny until near the end when Jesus Christ is returned to the Last Supper, banging away on a cowbell. It’s a tiny gag in the scope of the whole film, but it actually got the biggest, genuine laugh from me. I found this a little sad, honestly. This is meant to be comedy, right?

The film tries hard to cover its bases. We have another round of of personalities from different periods of history; this time, however, they’re all musicians. We have Bill & Ted deliver iconic lines. We have some really off the wall ideas like Dennis Caleb McCoy; a bumbling killer robot. We go to Hell again. And so on. Yet it just didn’t gel for me overall. It felt like the writing wasn’t quite there.

Sure, there is a feelgood vibe to Bill & Ted; I’ve not forgotten that. It’s the whole reason why I said earlier that Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey doesn’t really work for me overall. So I get that the film is staying true to its roots by being a bit more gentle on the humour scale than watching a modern comedy film or someone like Jim Jefferies doing stand-up. But it still feels a little disappointing to hold the disc in my hand tonight, and press play on what will surely be the last Bill & Ted outing and have it feel so… meh. It almost feels like a betrayal of the franchise to be writing this and potentially putting people off watching the film. Again, I liked the film. I just didn’t laugh out loud like I hoped I would and even the climactic ending felt a little subdued. Giving the final line (unless you count the unfunny “old men playing guitars” skit at the very end of the credits as the final line), to the daughters was, I believe, a mistake. The movie just sort of… ends and didn’t feel quite right to me for some intangible reason.

So that’s it. A journey that began a long time ago in a cinema on George Street has ended on DVD in my lounge room tonight. I’m glad I watched it. And despite anything you might think I’m saying in this review, I certainly don’t think it was a bad film. But having said that, in the future when it comes to, “What Bill & Ted film will I watch?” the first film will come first, daylight second, and Bogus Journey will get a thought every decade or so. Bill & Ted Face the Music will be somewhere behind that.

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