Life has changed for Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves’ time-traveling best friends Bill and Ted since strange things were afoot at the Circle K more than 30 years ago.
Over the course of the 1989 pop culture hit “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey” two years later, the teenage Wyld Stallyns duo went from putting together a rad high school history project (with the real Napoleon, Socrates and Abraham Lincoln!) to playing “Battleship” against Death in hell. The long-anticipated third installment, “Bill & Ted Face the Music” (available on demand and in theaters Friday), has the iconic buddies tackling a whole new obstacle: middle age.
OK, sure, things are a little more monumental this time because all reality is in jeopardy, but “Face the Music” centers on two dudes failing for years to write the song that will unite the world – at a time when we actually can’t be together in real life – and struggling to find the right inspiration as husbands and fathers.
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“They’ve been under a lot of pressure. They have a destiny to fulfill and it hasn’t happened. Alex and I have some water under our bridges,” Reeves, 55, says. “They decided to persevere, so I think we can relate to that.”
When original “Bill & Ted” writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon brought “Face the Music” to the actors, “they didn’t want the characters to be devoid of life experience and to not have that humanity. That gave us an opening to bring a lot of our own stuff to it,” Winter, 55, adds. “They’re really fun characters to play and there are aspects of myself in Bill, obviously, but this is about grown men with families and lives and responsibilities, and it was fun to bring a little bit of that groundedness to these guys.”
Directed by Dean Parisot (“Galaxy Quest”), Bill and Ted are years removed from Wyld Stallyns’ spectacular flameout and reduced to playing experimental jams (or, as Reeves quips, “ambitious, profound, sophisticated music”) at weddings where Bill sings weird bass tones and Ted accompanies on the theremin, trumpet and bagpipes. Filming the opening scene, “I kind of got to go to music school for a couple of weeks,” Reeves says.
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While they have a rooting section in their musical offspring, Bill’s daughter Thea (Samara Weaving) and Ted’s kid Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine), problems writing the prophesied song weigh on Bill and especially Ted. “Ted has more demons and those demons are, by middle age, knocking around a lot harder inside his emotional life,” Solomon says
An emissary (Kristen Schaal) takes the pair to the far-flung future where Bill and Ted learn they’re supposed to perform the aforementioned greatest song ever in a little more than an hour. Seeing as how they don’t know it yet and the clock’s ticking, Bill and Ted decide to hop in the old time-riding phone booth and get it from their own future selves, leading to run-ins with other Bills and Teds, including an intimidating prison duo “with extraordinary physiques. (That) Bill and Ted are pretty angry at us,” says Reeves.
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Winter and Reeves wouldn’t know about that sort of friction; they’ve been close buds since the ’80s, when they bonded over common interests (motorcycles, playing bass, acting) while vying for their “Bill & Ted” roles. “I was like, ‘Oh, this guy is cool,’ ” Winter recalls of first hanging with Reeves. “We just enjoyed doing those auditions together.”
With a natural chemistry and affection for each other, Winter and Reeves are “like musicians who just play really well together. And they did from the start,” Matheson says. Yet onscreen, much of “Face the Music” is about “Bill and Ted scrambling desperately to get their Bill and Ted-ness back, basically,” Solomon adds.
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The goal with “Face the Music” was to make “a feel-good movie about disappointment, disillusionment and failure,” Solomon says. In that way, the film reflects its own behind-the-scenes history: For 10 years, he and Matheson tried to get it made “and people wouldn’t have it. However, as things just got more divided and more cynical, maybe in a way this became a better template against which the movie could open because the movie is totally uncynical. There’s no meanness.”
Adds Matheson: “Early on in Trump’s presidency, we looked at each other and we said, ‘Donald Trump is going to be our best friend for this movie.’ ”
Winter agrees that the timing isn’t intentional, but “this theme of being excellent to each other and partying on, of being connected with your fellas and being engaged in life, now is a very good time for that type of message.”