I think I am supposed to say that Bill & Ted Face the Music, the third in a franchise about two Californian morons who time travel to save the world, is a harmless satire on American teenage good-naturedness and stupidity. I’m not sure about that: I think it is more likely evidence of what American cinema has done to the American mind since Jaws turned the B-list film into the A-list film, and vice-versa. Its heinous.
The premise is: creatures of the future decided long ago (in 1989) that Bill and Ted would one day write a song that would heal reality. So Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure saw them using time travel to meet historical figures to help them pass a history class that, if they failed, would mean Bill would go to military school in Alaska, and the music would die. In Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey they teamed up with Death — they met him and played not chess but Twister because they didn’t know how to play chess. Death (William Sadler) and his 40-minute bass solos is the best thing in this franchise. I longed for him, often.
Now middle-aged — the last film was 29 years ago; were the producers stoned? — Bill and Ted have still not written the song, and the creatures from the future are anxious. Reality is folding in on itself — the Egyptian pyramids appear in California and Jesus disappears from Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’. They tell Bill and Ted they must produce the song, and so Bill and Ted — they lack the brain capacity to do things separately, they are a two-headed man — travel to the future to ask their future selves for the song. They do not have it either. I briefly wonder if this is a rumination on American ambition and American failure, and decide it isn’t because that would be too self-aware.
Meanwhile, their daughters (Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine) time travel separately to assemble a supergroup to help what they collectively — and accurately — call the Dads. They round up Louis Armstrong in New Orleans in 1922, Jimi Hendrix in London and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Vienna, who is enticed into the group by hearing Hendrix play his electric guitar. This is by far the best conceit in Bill & Ted Face the Music, but unfortunately it only made me long to watch a film about the early years of Louis Armstrong (a gorgeous performance from Jeremiah Craft with Christian Scott on his trumpet), with or without time travel. Or a film about Mozart and Hendrix sharing a flat. Or Bill & Ted Face the Music without Bill and Ted. I can handle self-referential cinema but at least Quentin Tarantino makes better films than the ones he parodies. Everything they do Homer Simpson can do better. Or worse.
There is an almost feminist pay-off — perhaps to lessen the discourtesy of Jimi Hendrix and Louis Armstrong impersonators standing behind Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter — but it is meaningless because, when the music that saves reality finally comes, it can’t even save the film. Perhaps they should have just played ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.
I don’t know if they released this rubbish during the pandemic to give it an excuse to fail. The only other people in the cinema looked exactly like Bill (Keanu Reeves) and Ted (Alex Winter) as teenagers and even they hated it; this is a franchise whose time has passed. Of course, raging American masculinity is worse than this friendly vapidity; but perhaps this worship of stupidity and its inferior headliners is where it all began.