‘Bill & Ted Face The Music’ Hits Just The Right Notes

After watching the trailers for “Bill & Ted Face The Music,” one question kept popping into my head: How can these two guys from San Dimas go from playing in front of the largest audience in the world to performing for a crowd of 40 in Barstow, most of whom were there for $2 taco night? At the end of “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey,” we saw news articles of them performing all over the place, and they even got to stage a concert on Mars of all places. Seriously, you cannot plummet from a height of fame like that, right?

Well, keep in mind that at the end of “Bogus Journey,” Bill and Ted did finally learn how to play their guitars, but they also performed a cover of “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” by KISS. We never did hear them play any original tunes. As “Face The Music” begins, we learn their debut song as writers opened big and then plummeted to the bottom of the charts in record time. Even worse, their follow up albums were ravaged by the critics, one who described their work as being “manure.” Taking this into account, it makes perfect sense they would end up performing in Barstow, a town in the middle of nowhere. Like Vanilla Ice, they shot up into the stratosphere and then saw their follow-up album being sold at a used record store for only 99 cents (and that’s on the day after it was released).

We first see Bill S. Preston (Alex Winter) and Ted Logan (Keanu Reeves) at the wedding of Missy (Amy Stoch). Yes, Missy is getting married, and just wait until you find out to who. The two use the occasion to present the world premiere of their latest work, and while they play instruments with more confidence than before, they are still unable to put together a cohesive song, and the response they get is much like the one Spinal Tap received when they told the audience they were going in a “new musical direction.”

Bill and Ted are still married to the princesses, Joanna (Jayma Mays) and Elizabeth (Erinn Hays), and they have two beautiful music-loving daughters in Theodora (Samara Weaving) and Wilhelmina (Brigette Lundy-Paine). Still, they have not yet written the song meant to unite the whole world, and it appears as if this destiny may have been misread. Furthermore, their daughters are in their 20’s and still living at home, and their wives are starting to tire of the lack of the direction in their husbands’ lives. Ted’s dad, Captain Jonathan Logan (Hal Landon Jr.), refuses to believe he and Bill could have traveled in time or gone to heaven and hell and begs them to get “real jobs.” Yes, middle age has hit Bill and Ted real hard to where they feel the need to reassess their goals.

Then into the picture comes Kelly (Kristen Schaal), daughter of the late Rufus, who takes Bill and Ted to the future to meet The Great Leader (played by Holland Taylor) who is not exactly happy with where they have ended up in life. From there, they are informed that the universe is unravelling and will be destroyed if they do not write the unifying song in the next 78 minutes. How about that? You are tasked with writing the song which will unite the world, and you have just over an hour to compose it. Talk about pressure! As we get older, 78 minutes doesn’t last as long as it used to.

Bill, however, comes up with a most excellent plan to travel with Ted into the future when they have already written the song and to take it from themselves. Ted considers this to be stealing, but Bill convinces him it isn’t as long as they are stealing from themselves. Hey, it worked for James Horner!

“Face the Music” comes to us more than 25 years after “Bogus Journey,” so it is hard to know what to expect. It reunites not only Reeves and Winter, but also screenwriters Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon who penned the previous two films as well. I am thankful to say this sequel is no “Blues Brothers 2000” which relied on an overabundance of nostalgia to where I found myself wanting to watch the original. Instead, it does come with some good laughs and a lot of heart as everyone involved has worked their damndest to bring this last chapter of Bill and Ted to the silver screen and digital streaming for dozens of years. Regardless of what you may think, no one is out to simply repeat themselves here.

Both Reeves and Winter are clearly having a blast as Bill and Ted keep traveling to different parts of the future in an effort to talk to themselves and get the song. This allows the actors to portray them in various ways to where we see them as has beens, a duo ever so in love with English culture, and hard-core prisoners who have bulked far more than you would ever have expected (nice makeup work by the way). Regardless of the many years which have passed them by, both actors slip back into their roles as if they never left them, and they keep these characters from becoming mere caricatures throughout.

Also, believe it or not, there is some evolution to Bill and Ted. Granted, they are still pretty dense when it comes to things like couple’s therapy, but they also realize how their famous sayings of “be excellent to each other” and “party on dudes” do not have the same resonance as they once did. Before they go on their latest excellent adventure, they have to realize they are at a crossroads as things cannot keep going the way they have been as things have got to change. Still, it is worth it to see them playing air guitar here and there even as they approach middle age with inescapable apprehension.

Both Weaving and Lundy-Paine are fun to watch as the daughters, and this is even though the section where they search for famous musicians to create a band is the film’s weakest. It’s a bit of an anemic retread of when Bill and Ted, on their “Excellent Adventure,” went back in time to gather historical figures for their final history exam. Regardless, it is cool to see Jimi Hendrix jam with a bewildered Mozart who has no idea what he is hearing.

It is also great to see William Sadler return as the Grim Reaper as he stole every scene he had in “Bogus Journey.” He too slips back into this hilarious character as if he just played him yesterday, and not once does he have to struggle to get a laugh out of any of us. Seeing the Reaper attempt to make peace with Bill and Ted over the fallout they had with all those 40-minute bass solos is not just one of “Face the Music’s” funniest moments, but also one of its most heartfelt.

Each of the “Bill & Ted” films have had a different director: Stephen Herek directed “Excellent Adventure,” Pete Hewitt helmed “Bogus Journey,” and behind the camera for this installment is Dean Parisot. As a result, each one has a different feel to it despite having most of the same cast and the same screenwriters. Parisot is a perfect fit for this entry as he is terrific at mining material for both laughs and heart, and he proved this with “Galaxy Quest,” one of the greatest cult movies ever made. “Face the Music” doesn’t reach the same heights as “Galaxy Quest,” but Parisot does show a lot of respect for these characters and gives this sequel the heart it deserves. More importantly, he gives it a fulfilling conclusion which truly put a big smile on my face.

Upon first watching “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” I have to admit my feelings on it were mixed as I hoped it would be funnier. But after watching it a second time, I found myself appreciating it more as speaks to the values of friendship and music, both of which we need in these crazy times. Whether or not this sequel is all you ever hoped for, it is clear everyone involved put everything they had into it, and I do hope the fans are satisfied with what they see.

Could a fourth “Bill & Ted” movie ever happen? I don’t know, and frankly this one serves as good conclusion. Seeing them rock out at the conclusion reminds me of what Neil Young once said:

“Rock and roll can never die.”

Damn right! Party on dudes!

* * * out of * * * *

Music Review: ‘Are You Experienced?’ by The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Are You Experienced album cover

After all these years, “Are You Experienced” remains the definitive album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. It features some of Hendrix’s most well-known hits such as “Purple Haze,” “Manic Depression” and “Foxy Lady,” and many of these songs still prove to be as popular with today’s generation of music fans as they were when this album first came out in 1967. It continues to make its mark in popular culture in movies like “Wayne’s World,” and “Purple Haze” remains one of those songs with misunderstood lyrics like “‘scuse me while I kiss the sky.” Many still think Hendrix is saying, “Scuse me while I kiss this guy.”

“Purple Haze” opens the album with a burst of infectious energy that captures the listener’s attention and never lets it go. Hendrix’s guitar playing remains legendary, and he has a sound which is instantly distinctive. When he starts playing, the listener can tell it’s him twanging away. No one ever has to guess who is playing when his songs come on the radio.

When listening to the next song “Manic Depression,” listeners may wonder if Hendrix actually understands what manic depression is. With its relentlessly upbeat tempo, depression has never sounded or felt this good, and Hendrix is inviting the audience to experience it with him. It also shows how “Are You Experienced” didn’t peak with the first song.

“Are You Experienced” does have some slower songs which seduce the listener ever so gently with their elegant beauty. “May This Be Love” has Hendrix letting loose without blowing your stereo speakers out, and his level of improvisation is extraordinary. Even more beautiful, however, is “The Wind Cries Mary” which is truly one of the best love songs ever recorded. While the latter was originally released as a B-side, it was included on the album’s North American edition.

There’s also a wealth of musical experimentation going on here as Hendrix and his collaborators, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding, play around with what can be accomplished on a rock album. “Are You Experienced’s” lone instrumental track of “3rd Stone from The Sun” is a sonic psychedelic journey with the band playing against slowed down or distorted voices as the listener is plunged into a voyage where the destination remains unknown. While not all of what’s being said makes sense, something still pulls us music fans in throughout.

Perhaps the album’s most experimental track is “Are You Experienced?” which has the band playing back their instrument recordings at times backwards. Here’s another song that takes the listener on a journey and keeps propelling them forward past the point of no return. That monotonous piano key that is tapped on throughout never becomes annoying as this is not a song nor an album generations of music fans can tear themselves away from, ever.

But let us not forget “Foxy Lady”, of which filmmaker Penelope Spheeris made brilliant use of in “Wayne’s World” when Garth strutted over to his dream girl to the song’s rhythm. The song’s power is the kind which most musicians today can only dream of duplicating, and any lady as foxy as this one will not be heading to their nearest exits. This is straightforward rock and roll at its most classically groovy!

As much attention is paid to Hendrix and his accomplishments, no one should forget the contributions of Mitchell or Redding. In making this album, the guitarist was determined to work with some of the best musical artists he could find, and he lucked out with these two. Mitchell is a drum player who is not as well-known as others from the era this album was made in, but he proved to be as good a drummer as Keith Moon of The Who. Redding’s bass guitar provided a great rhythmic force which rock music needs to keep the beat going. They both easily match the playing power Hendrix brought to this particular project of his, and this album is all the better for it.

Like many of the greatest rock albums ever, “Are You Experienced” was made to break the rules of music as they were always meant to be broken. While other bands may have had to sacrifice power to make everything balance out in their musical compositions, this was an album which proved they didn’t always have to do that. It was re-released in recent years in a new digitally remastered version which sounds better than ever. Now is as good a time as ever to pass the music of guitar god Hendrix on to a new generation as few other guitarists these days can match his genius.