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Bill & Ted Face the Music review – entertaining enough Greatest Hits package

Almost 30 years on from Bogus Journey, this belated follow-up won't win prizes for originality but still works as a sweet tribute act

Fittingly for a film that opens with the struggles of a once popular but now washed-up band, Bill and Ted Face the Music arrives in cinemas with the air of a “Greatest Hits” album. It plays all the familiar notes, though offers little in the way of new twists and surprises. Yet while some of the old magic has clearly vanished, it still does just enough to warrant its belated existence.

After an almost 30 year absence, we’re reintroduced to the Wyld Stallyns – Bill Preston (Alex Winter) and Ted Logan (Keanu Reeves) – in a far more bogus state of affairs than we last saw them in. Reduced from world-renowned rock gods to playing at family weddings, they’re still trying to write their prophesied song that will “unite the world,” but clearly are having a very tough time of it. This opening scene is Face the Music’s best, with Bill and Ted’s “gig” – all theremin and Mongolian throat singing – earning the film’s biggest laughs, capped off with a fantastically ill-thought out wedding speech that makes every guest deeply uncomfortable.

The old friends are staring down the barrel of total irrelevance, but are given new purpose when a message from the future arrives – they have 77 minutes to finally craft their perfect song, or else not only will the world not be united, but the entirety of space and time will collapse. It’s the kind of premise that is too high stakes to really have any stakes at all, and writing duo Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon (who wrote the first two films) have fun with it, as Bill and Ted travel into their own futures to try and steal the song from themselves.

In a neat twist, this 77 minute time limit plays out in real time (Face the Music is a breezily short film), but even then, none of the scenes feel particularly urgent. Meanwhile, Bill and Ted’s daughters, Thea (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy Paine), essentially recreate Excellent Adventure as they travel through the past to assemble the perfect band to play Bill and Ted’s song. This storyline is rather rushed, but there’s a lot of fun to be had as Jimi Hendrix jams with Mozart, backed by a ancient cavewoman on the drums.

The relationship between the daughters and their dads is only thinly sketched, but allows for some moments of real sweetness, and Weaving and Paine, though hardly given much actual “acting to do,” nail their impressions of Winter and Reeves circa 1990. To complete the nostalgia trip, we also return to the Hell of Bogus Journey and reunite with Death (William Sadler), who is just as enjoyably silly as last time out.

Face the Music is sunnily entertaining throughout, but you can never quite shake the feeling that something is missing. The proper laughs dry up after the first few scenes and, despite some exceptional prosthetics work on the older Bills and Teds, the creativity and style of the first two films is lacking, especially in the Hell scenes. In Bogus Journey, Hell was a genuinely surreal place, but under the direction of franchise newcomer Dean Parisot, it’s far more generic – all CG fire and brimstone with none of the nightmare logic that made it so memorable in the first place.

When a sequel arrives that’s been over a decade in the making, the most one hopes for is often that it simply won’t embarrass itself or tarnish the legacy of the originals. Face the Music hurdles that – admittedly low – bar and when the time comes for the final, spectacular, universe-saving gig, it does raise a big smile. It’s unlikely to be remembered as fondly as the first two films, but it’s so clearly a labour of love that it’s kind of hard to resist.

Bill and Ted Face the Music is now showing in UK cinemas.

Where to watch

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