The existence of a third Bill & Ted movie in the Year of Our Lord 2020 is both inexplicable and inevitable. The first two movies - Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, from 1989 (though it was intended for 1988) and Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, from 1991 - are a pair of films incredibly of their time, and to a certain degree, it's entirely impossible to imagine these two Southern California garage-rock idiots existing outside of an exceedingly narrow window of time. Even 1991 was pushing their luck, really. And yet the films have an adoring fanbase,  Keanu Reeves is having a major pop cultural moment that makes it exceptionally good timing to build a nostalgia property around him, and the two extant movies make it extremely easy to believe that neither Bill nor Ted would do much if any changing over the subsequent 29 years, even as the world passed them by a couple times over.

So here we are, and here is Bill & Ted Face the Music, and it is, on the one hand, exactly what it seems like: unimaginative nostalgia-bait. And on the other hand, it's the only thing it ever remotely needed to be: a third opportunity to hang out with two of the nicest, most indefatigably optimistic imbeciles you ever met. Or really, four imbeciles, for now, a quarter of a century after the events of Bogus Journey, Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted "Theodore" Logan (Reeves) have a pair of adult daughters, Theadora "Thea" Preston (Samara Weaving) and Wilhelmina "Billie" Logan (Brigette Lundy-Paine), and they're not a whit smarter, nor a white less upbeat and gregarious, then their dads.

The biggest flaw of Face the Music is not that it's a cautiously fan-servicing sequel that unnecessarily retreads too much of Excellent Adventure, and jams in chunks of Bogus Journey without thinking about what the hell it's doing, though all of that is true. The biggest flaw is that, between Bill & Ted & Thea & Billie, it has a wonderful ensemble of four affable meatheads whose combined interactions provide some of the warmest and most winning scenes in the whole movie, and once the first act is over, it splits them part for almost the whole running time.

The plot is kind of besides the point: Bill & Ted have still not done whatever thing they were meant to do to create the utopian future promised in the first two movies (the film takes the smartest possible approach to untying all the loose ends Bogus Journey appeared to tie up, by declaring in narration, essentially "yeah, we thought that was all resolved too, guess we were wrong. Weird"), and they've taken so long to get it handled that the entire space-time continuum is about to collapse. 700 years in the future, Kelly (Kristen Schaal, enormously delightful), daughter of the late time-traveler Rufus (George Carlin, putting in a quick archival cameo), believes that it's just a matter of giving Bill & Ted one last pep talk. Her mother, the Great Leader (Holland Taylor, also delightful but not present very much), thinks that Bill & Ted need to be killed to undo whatever paradox is blooming, so she sends a murder-robot (Anthony Carrigan) to track them down.

Learning that they have until that afternoon to write the song that will unite all humankind, Bill & Ted decide the only smart play is to keep jumping forward in time until they find a version of their future selves who remember writing it. Thea & Billie decide to assemble the greatest band in all of history, moving backward to recruit notable musicians including Jimi Hendrix (DazMann Still), Louis Armstrong (Jeremiah Craft), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Daniel Dorr), Ling Lun (Sharon Gee), the traditional founder of music in ancient China, and Grom (Patty Anne Miller), the Neanderthal woman who invented drumming.

So there we have it: Bill & Ted keep meeting different Bills & Teds, most of whom really despise them for fucking up their marriages to Joanna (Jayma Mays) and Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes), medieval English princesses who have, over the course of nearly three decades in contemporary America, turned into humorless sitcom wives. Thea & Billie re-enact Excellent Adventure with musicians. This is a little bit of a bummer, three times over: first, as I said, the four-way interaction of the characters is such an extraordinary strength that it feels criminal to waste it; second, Bogus Journey demonstrated that there was a great deal to be gotten out of this franchise by switching things up and playing around with the characters in brand new generic settings, and it's a little bit of a shame that this one decides to partially re-make the first movie; third, there's not nearly enough time to go through Thea & Billie's subplot, and so instead of giving them a chance to poke around and be goofballs in time, it basically feels like a glorified montage that only slows down to give us a lot more time with Craft's deeply unimpressive Armstrong impression than we really need.

Still, grousing about the narrative is kind of a silly thing to do: the characters don't care about their story any more than co-writers Chris Matheson & Ed Solomon do (the duo reunites for the first time since 1991 to complete their series without letting any other writers muck it up, and good for them). These have never been "care about the script" movies, except insofar as the script is a source for gags, dialogue, and most importantly, the personalities of the characters. The Bill & Ted movies have really only ever done one thing: let the two lead actors create very silly, very likable characters whom it is agreeable to spend time with. And in this respect, at least, Face the Music is right up to the series' standards. In 1991, Reeves was developing a more robust career than Winter; in 2020, the gulf between their respective filmographies is such that they're practically in different industries (Winter is almost exclusively a director these days, mostly of things you've probably not heard of). But you'd never be able to tell from the onscreen evidence: Reeves never once pulls movie star privileges to get more attention than his co-star, and the whole movie is impeccably balanced between them; they both give deeply relaxed and completely unselfconscious performances as the same hapless nitwits whose refusal to to be depressed or feel like they might lose or really permit any negative emotion of any sort to enter their brains is the warm, sentimental heart of this franchise. Adding the older Bills & Teds gives the actors a chance to play around even more, and it's goofy, frivolous nonsense of the most inviting kind.

And now there's twice as many of these characters! To be sure, Thea & Billie aren't quite the equal to Bill & Ted; this is mostly on Weaving, who gives certainly the weakest performance of the four leads, shooting past "enthusiastic idiot" into "aggressive and maybe even hostile" far too often. But Lundy-Paine is terrific, playing a young female version of Reeves's airhead slacker so perfectly that I would not merely not mind, but actively anticipate a Billie & Thea spin-off, if such a thing might possibly find its way into being.

The film doesn't need anything else besides these four characters being big and dopey and sweet and lovable, and it really doesn't get it. Joanna and Elizabeth get their own subplot, which is definitely one more than the film has room for, and so mostly we just kind of notice them and move on; one gets the impression that Matheson & Solomon feel bad for treating these characters so shabbily in the last two movies, but they haven't given themselves room to do anything to actually change that fact. Director Dean Parisot, the first director in this series with actual high-concept comedy bonafides (he is responsible for the wonderful Galaxy Quest, from 1999 - to be fair, not a triumph because of its directing), handles everything with proficiency but little flair; though would flair help? Given the adorably abysmal CGI, they perhaps did not have the budget for flair. The supporting cast can be quite great - Schaal is outstanding, and in their very tiny ways, so are Dorr and Gee (such as it even counts), with a particularly wonderful interaction where Mozart is delighted to hear Ling Lun play a few familiar notes on her flute - but there are enough flat spots in the acting that it's hard to overlook it. I regret to say very much that one of this is William Sadler, returning as Death, though this is in no small part because of how ineptly Death has been written back into this film; it's pure fanservice, with no clear benefit to the rest of the film.

Still, it's a hell of an easy watch, 91 breezy minutes that are just so damn nice, and so damn upbeat, and so damn optimistic - the watchwords of the series since its inception, and well-served by this years-later exhumation. We did not need this much-delayed third sequel, and we would not be worse-off if it didn't exist. But we didn't maybe need the first two, either, and they're extremely enjoyable; I might not use the word "extremely" to describe how enjoyable Face the Music is, but I had a good time, spent most of it smiling and very little of it laughing, and I will not hesitate to work this one into future Bill & Ted viewings I might undergo. Can't ask for more than that.

Reviews in this series
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (Herek, 1989)
Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (Hewitt, 1991)
Bill & Ted Face the Music (Parisot, 2020)