I don't often get feelings of deja vu at the cinema, but I did the other day: there was an odd sense of detachment from reality, and not in a good way, rather akin to the atmosphere at the showing of Bloodshot (the last film I saw in March before lockdown kicked in). Not to put too fine a point on it, the various short films with messages like WELCOME BACK! and LET THE LIGHT OF CINEMA SHINE AGAIN! felt a bit disingenuous given that Cineworld and Picturehouse are closing their doors again as of Friday, and the local Odeon is going down to weekend openings only. The reason for this? Well, the studios say it's because people aren't going to the cinemas currently, and the cinema-owners say it's because the studios aren't releasing any substantial films at the moment.
The catalyst for the recent wave of closures and semi-closures seems to have been the decision to postpone No Time to Die again until late spring of next year, which made it rather ironic that this was pretty much the only film for adults being trailed on the trip in question – trailers are intended to provoke a range of emotions, but I doubt irritation is quite what Eon had in mind (the same run of trailers also included one for Peter Rabbit 2, so my negative psychic energy gauge was pretty much topped up to the brim by the time the actual film arrived).
In the circumstances I suppose one should feel grateful to anyone who's taken a chance on releasing a mainstream movie at all, as they're in the minority - both the Odeon and the Phoenix in Oxford have been showing Akira every night this week, just to fill their screens, and much as I admire Katsushiro Otomo's epochal cyberpunk vision, I doubt there's the audience there to justify this. In line for a medal along with the makers of Tenet, The New Mutants, and a handful of others are the people behind Bill & Ted Face The Music, a film which has apparently been ten years in the making (now that's just plain bad luck).
Was there a burning appetite for a third instalment in this particular series? I'm not sure, but post the John Wick movies, Keanu Reeves is apparently 'hot' again, which I suppose amounts to the same thing. Dean Parisot directs this time around. The movie opens with the revelation that, nearly thirty years on, Bill and Ted have yet to write the song which unites the world and paves the way for utopia, with the result that reality itself is starting to unravel: figures such as Babe Ruth, George Washington and Jesus are popping out of existence and reappearing in the wrong places. This struck me as quite a hefty piece of exposition to casually dump on the audience as part of an opening montage, but the film is nothing if not breezy and fast-moving.
Anyway, we find Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Reeves) reduced to playing at a family wedding (a complicated dynastic history means that in the course of the ceremony the groom becomes his own stepfather-in-law, or something). They go on to unveil their latest effort at musical immortality, a prog-rock horror concerning the meaning of meaning which involves Winter throat-singing and Reeves playing the theremin, the trumpet and the bagpipes in quick succession (and, frankly, if the idea of this doesn't at least make you chuckle, this probably isn't the movie for you).
Pretty much their only supporters are their daughters, Billie (Samara Weaving) and Theadora (Bridgette Lundy-Paine): their wives (who, the film takes pains to remind us, are former princesses from medieval England) are doing their best to be supportive, but finding this hard, and Ted's father still refuses to believe any of their stories about travelling in time or visiting the afterlife. Ted has even begun to entertain thoughts of packing music in, monumental destiny or not.
Still, there is that pesky matter of the impending implosion of the universe to consider, and the duo find themselves summoned to the future to explain their lack of progress on the world-unifying-song-writing front. The song must be written, toot sweet, or an alternative prophecy will be entertained – one where the universe is saved not by Bill and Ted's music, but their deaths...
What ensues is pretty much of a piece with the two original movies (which I must confess to not having watched in absolutely ages): it's either deceptively clever or deceptively silly, depending on where you stand, but all put across with great energy and commitment by the players. Reeves and Winter spend most of the film travelling into the future trying to steal a copy of the song from themselves, which basically produces a series of sketches where they appear in increasingly preposterous prosthetic make-up. The script is surprisingly generous in the amount of time it gives to the daughters, who essentially reprise the plots of the first two movies as they assemble the greatest band in history to back their fathers up – this includes bass-player Death (William Sadler), despite an awkward split (musical differences) needing to be resolved.
All of this is telegraphing a climactic twist which is obvious virtually from the start, as we are now living in a cultural climate where it seems deeply problematic to suggest that two white dudes can actually achieve anything positive and noteworthy. But so it goes, and Face The Music is mostly very engaging stuff, hard to dislike, and often very funny. There is something undeniably touching about seeing Reeves and Winter back together, and there's no sense of Reeves leveraging his superstar status (which is not really surprising, given the plethora of stories about what a lovely human being he is) – this is the same double-act from thirty years ago.
In the end you can't help feeling a bit sorry for a film which is so laid-back and cheerful making its debut in such awkward times: in any previous year, the upbeat final message about bringing people together through music would be an unexceptional one, but at the moment the world feels deeply and (in some ways) necessarily divided on all kinds of levels. A lot of classic science fiction films of all kinds share an essential kind of naivety – it's perhaps one of the charms of the genre – so you can't really criticise Face the Music for this. One could wish the film's optimism were a bit less at odds with reality right now, though.