Bill and Ted Face the Music (2020)

Bill & Ted Face the Music finds our lovable slacker buds, William S. Preston Esq. (Alex Winter) and Theodore Logan (Keanu Reeves), still at the great work that Rufus (the late George Carlin) foretold for them: the song that would unite the world. They’re also middle aged, with daughters of their own, named for the other: Wilhelmina “Billie” Logan (Brigette Lundy-Paine) is dark-haired, shy, and androgynous like Ted, while Theadora Preston (Samara Weaving) is blonde, confident, and hyperactive like Bill. The film opens on the wedding of Missy (Amy Stoch), who was once our hapless duo’s babysitter, then was Ted’s step-mother, then Bill’s step-mother, and is now marrying Ted’s younger brother Deacon (Beck Bennett, taking over for Frazier Bain). At the reception, Bill and Ted plan to perform the first three movements of their latest composition, entitled “That Which Binds Us Through Time: The Chemical, Physical, and Biological Nature of Love and the Exploration of the Meaning of Meaning — Part 1,” and it starts with throat-singing and theremin, so I’m on board, but it’s not a crowd pleaser. At the suggestion of their wives, the princesses (Erinn Hayes and Jayma Mays), Bill and Ted attend couple’s therapy with their respective spouse, as a quartet. 

Meanwhile in the future, time and space are falling apart. Rufus’s daughter Kelly (Kristen Schaal) and widow The Great Leader (Holland Taylor) have different interpretations of the prophesied Wyld Stallyns song, with the latter believing in her father’s vision of universal unity through the power of music, and her mother hoping to put things back on track by reluctantly killing the Stallyns. To that end, she sends a time-traveling murderbot (Anthony Carrigan) to hunt them down across space and time. Learning about the dire situation, Bill and Ted steal their old phone booth time machine and move progressively forward in time along their own lifelines in an attempt to acquire the song from their future selves. Meanwhile, Billie and Thea travel through time to acquire various historical musicians (and Kid Cudi) in preparation for the performance. 

The sad thing about Face the Music is that, all too often, Bill and Ted are the least interesting things in it. This movie made me feel young, and then it made me feel old, and then it made me feel young again, but not in a way I was happy about. There’s just a little too much happening here, in a sequel to a movie that knew just how many juggling pins it could keep in the air at one time, and there are too many narrative threads. Offscreen, the princesses have been invited by future versions of themselves to see all of space and time and see if there’s any way they can actually be happy in their marriages to the men of the title (not to sound too much like the boys, but, like, that plot is majorly a downer). Meanwhile, the daughters are having their adventure, which is a mixed bag; Weaving and Lundy-Paine are both great here but are sometimes forced into delivering dialogue that hits the ear with neither subtlety or comedy. They have a kind of abridged version of Excellent Adventure as they collect Mozart, Hendrix, and Louis Armstrong (Daniel Dorr, DazMann Still, and Jeremiah Craft) and others, to form a supergroup rather than for a history project, but each encounter feels more expository than fun. They encounter one instance of resistance in their plot and overcome it almost immediately, then have nothing but easy success from there on out, which doesn’t make for a compelling watch. Conversely, each future version of the adult Bill and Ted is drunker and less helpful than the last, and these encounters go on for too long (especially in 2025), making the whole thing feel more like a labor than a good time. Then, as if that weren’t enough, we get a slight rehash of Bogus Journey with a trip to Hell, where the guys, their daughters, several time-displaced musicians, and Ted’s dad once again meet up with Death (William Sadler) to get back to the world of the living in time to perform the song and prevent the end of existence as we know it–because, if there’s one thing you have to remember, it’s this: the clock in San Dimas is always running. 

I didn’t even get into the plot that’s running concurrently in the future in which The Great Leader keeps getting summoned into the same amphitheater to look at the hologram of space and time (represented as the earth as a turntable, with a record deck at the equator like Saturn’s rings) to fret, which seems to happen nearly half a dozen times. In an overstuffed movie, it’s crammed in there too for some reason but there seems to be a disconcerting lack of a narrative purpose for us to keep going back there. Obviously one would want to get their money’s worth when hiring Holland Taylor, but from a story standpoint, there’s just no reason to keep doing this; a ninety-three minute movie shouldn’t have 125 minutes of plot crowding it up like the suitcase of a Looney Tunes character, as it leaves no breathing room and creates the situation mentioned earlier, in which character dialogue is rushed and overly expositional.  

I loved Bill & Ted in my youth, and no one wanted this movie to be better than I did. There are a few solid jokes here, but even some of the best are in service of generating a nostalgic feeling, which isn’t the wrong way to go with this particular franchise, but could have been scaled back by about 35% and had both more room to breathe and been just as effective. Lundy-Paine and Weaving are doing a lot of heavy lifting, and they’re up to most of it, but there are lines that they’re asked to sell that are simply impossible to pull off, and while Reeves has continued to carve out a niche for himself with John Wick and one-off minor roles in things like Neon Demon, Alex Winter has remained largely out of the public eye, mostly making documentaries. It’s great to see him here; he seems to be having the most fun of anyone, and it’s infectious, even when the film drags. It’s a less than delightful end(?) to a franchise that had a better ending in Bogus Journey.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

The Boss (2016)

EPSON MFP image

three star

My expectations may have been a little too high for The Boss. I geeked out pretty hard last year when I finally caught up with Melissa McCarthy’s first feature film team-up with her husband Ben Falcone, Tammy, which I called in my review “the culmination of what McCarthy has been building towards since her long line of hot mess characters began in 2011.” That’s a lot for a sophomore follow-up to live up to, so it was unlikely that I was ever going to enjoy the McCarthy-Falcone production The Boss quite as much as I did Tammy. It’s a funny, serviceable, occasionally absurd comedy that McCarthy & Falcone obviously had a great time bringing to the screen, but it’s difficult to get too excited about the film because I’ve already seen them do so much better. There’s a darkness & go-for-broke inanity to Tammy that I feel is somewhat lacking in the much more restrained The Boss and the resulting film feels a little generic in its absence.

Part of the problem might be that The Boss takes a little too long to get rolling. The titular pure id monster Tammy is entirely recognizable as a complete character almost as soon as she’s introduced. The Boss‘s Michelle Darnell (a character McCarthy developed many years back in The Groundlings), on the other hand, requires a little groundwork. A product of group homes & orphanages, Darnell is a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps cliche that became a wealthy, deeply strange cocktail of Nancy Grace, Paula Dean, Martha Stewart and any self-motivation guru you could think of who would write a book titled Money Talks Bullshit Walks through sheer gumption & will. You have to wait for her to get to the top, get knocked off her throne (by some well-deserved insider trading charges), and then find a second life as an entrepreneur helming a Girl Scouts knockoff that sells treats for profits instead of charity (in blatant violation of child labor laws) before the film really gets rolling. There’s a good fifteen, twenty minutes of labored exposition required to get Darnell in full swing and once she gets there the quiet moments between her sadistically self-absorbed, petty line of dark humor soften the film’s punch & pace more than I’d like. There’s a movie just as subversively dark & self-deprecating as Tammy hiding somewhere in The Boss, but it’s noticeably bogged down & muddled in a way its predecessor wasn’t.

McCarthy is still funny here whenever she’s allowed fully misbehave & indulge in oversexed, money-obsessed misanthropy. The Boss also has a great back-up crew of small role supporting actors in Peter Dinklage, Cecily Strong, Kathy Bates, Kristen Schaal, and Neptune, Caifornia’s own Kristen Bell. Reno 911‘s Cedric Yardbrough has a wonderfully absurd, one-note bit role as a surreally agreeable yes-man named Tito that nearly steals the show, but isn’t given enough screen time to fully commit (there’s a moment at the climax where I was pretty bummed that Tito didn’t swoop back in on a helicopter to save the day despite the fact that it would’ve made very little sense narratively). Besides the talent on deck, The Boss also has a great central message about the value of camaraderie among women & the unexpected ways make-shift families can form around even the most undeserving. I like it okay as a generic comedy with a talented lead & a wickedly petty mean streak, but Tammy felt like a much more special moment in McCarthy’s career (not that it did any better with mainstream outlets & audiences critically-speaking). I like to think that this film was wish-fulfillment for McCarthy & Falcone, who obviously were proud to bring Darnell to such a wide audience, but that they have much more subversive, sadistic comedy work still ahead of them. I’ve seen them pull it off before.

-Brandon Ledet