‘Bill & Ted Face the Music’ and They Also Face the Weight of Years’ Worth of Anticipation

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Bill & Ted Face the Music (CREDIT: Orion Pictures)

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Samara Weaving, Erinn Hayes, Jayma Mays, Kristen Schaal, Holland Taylor, Anthony Carrigan, William Sadler, Hal Landon Jr., Beck Bennett, Kid Cudi, Jillian Bell

Director: Dean Parisot

Running Time: 88 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for “Some Language,” Apparently

Release Date: August 28, 2020 (Theaters and On Demand)

Bill & Ted Face the Music is about the crushing expectations of destiny. It’s kind of like the Bhagavad Gita in that way. From a gnarlier perspective, it’s also about how time travel doesn’t make any sense, and won’t ever make sense, but that’s okay, because we can still be excellent to each other.

When we first met the Wyld Stallyns during their first excellent time-hopping adventure thirty years ago, we learned that their music would serve as the inspiration for a utopian society several centuries into the future. And now it’s finally time for them to answer that call. If they don’t, the time-space continuum will totally be ripped apart! But in 2020, the biggest live music gig that Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Alex Winter) can get is the wedding of Ted’s younger brother to Bill’s former stepmom. How then can they possibly live up to what Fate has asked of them? How could anybody, really? The premise worked well enough in Excellent Adventure, as it remained theoretical and fantastical, but now disappointment feels inevitable.

But fortunately Face the Music isn’t really about the promise of that world-saving composition. Rather, it is about the shenanigans that lead up to that point, naturally enough. Facing a profound case of writer’s block and a terrifying time limit of only 78 minutes, Bill and Ted figure they might as well visit their future selves and steal the song they will have already written by that point. But that proves to be fruitless no matter how far in the future they go, which begs the question: are they only able to travel into a possible future in which they’re not successful? But how could that be if they’re able to visit the utopian far future when they will have necessarily been successful? And why is there a time limit anyway? If they fail, can’t they just get in the phone booth and go back far enough in the past to start over? The stern visage of Holland Taylor (who plays the future’s Great Leader) assures us otherwise.

There’s a sanded-down quality to Face the Music that can happen when you try to resurrect old beloved characters. Bill and Ted are still plenty charming, but they’re far from as dopey as they were when they were teenagers, even though they still talk in the same surfer bro SoCal cadence. Meanwhile, there’s a trickier sort of alchemy attempted with their daughters (Brigette Lundy-Paine and Samara Weaving), who are basically gender-flipped carbon copies of their dads but they’re also actually geniuses, at least when it comes to music theory, history, and composition.

Face the Music struggles to get a handle on how ridiculous the Wyld Stallyns and their loved ones and collaborators are supposed to be. They do live in a ridiculous reality after all, as they must contend with a depression-prone killer robot (Anthony Carrigan) and a Grim Reaper (William Sadler returning from Bogus Journey) who mopes about not being allowed to deliver 40-minute bass solos. That’s often the trouble with returning to a kooky world. The base level of kookiness is already so high that any new bit of kookiness just feels like chaos. There’s a nice degree of heart here that sometimes shines through in the cacophony, but there’s nothing quite as sublime as “Bob Genghis Khan.”

Bill & Ted Face the Music is Recommended If You Like: Midlife crises, Millennia-spanning supergroups, Just-go-with-it time travel

Grade: 3 out of 5 Princess Wives

In ‘Guns Akimbo,’ Daniel Radcliffe Discovers That EVERYTHING’S Gone Akimbo

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CREDIT: Saban Films

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Samara Weaving, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Ned Dennehy, Rhys Darby

Director: Jason Lei Howden

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rating: R for Big Booming, Bloody Effective Gunfire and An Awkward Attempt to Use the Toilet

Release Date: February 28, 2020 (Limited)

If some goons bolted a couple of huge black pistols to your hands and then forced you to fight in a live-streaming death match, what would you do? That’s the setup for writer-director Jason Lei Howden’s thought experiment/action bonanza Guns Akimbo. Presumably, for many of us, the answer to this question would be what happened to Daniel Radcliffe’s video game developer character Miles, which is to say: run around in a panic, get really stinky while struggling to put on pants and go to the bathroom, and maybe survive for a little while by relying on instinct and adrenaline. What is perhaps less likely is where Miles ultimately ends up, which is summoning all he’s got to turn the tables on the freaks running this game. Maybe most people in this predicament would wind up dying within five minutes, but that’s why this story isn’t about them.

With movies about these sorts of illicit underground sensations, I always wonder about the larger context. Is the rest of the world just carrying on normally, or this some sort of dystopia, or maybe a mini-dystopia in a town that can’t think of anything better to do than have its citizens kill each other? The game in Guns Akimbo takes place wherever its players go, so there is a vibe of massive violence occurring in plain sight. Actually, it’s not a vibe so much as an actuality. To wit, when Miles goes to his office to get one of his co-workers to help him out with something, there ends up being a massacre with plenty of collateral damage. There’s not a whole lot of context-setting, but I think we get just enough to understand that the deadly consequences are unpredictable and indiscriminate, though only a small percentage of the world is obsessed with the carnage.

Keeping Miles on his toes is his opponent Nix, played by Samara Weaving in a profoundly disaffected style that’s miles away from her wonderfully hysterical work in Ready or Not. She’s got herself constantly numbed by drugs, all the better to keep herself focused on blasting away any comers with panache and to not be overcome by the emotional scars of her tragic backstory. Eventually, she and Miles realize they have more in common than they thought, and that leads to a fairly satisfying climax. But really, the main attraction is seeing how Miles figures out how to do fairly simple tasks with huge pieces of metal blocking his hands. At one point, a homeless man played by Rhys Darby offers him a hot dog but refuses to slip it into his mouth, and you can never know how cruel that is until you see it. How Miles was not constantly fainting from the pain, we may never know. The human body’s fight to survive can be quite resilient.

Guns Akimbo is Recommended If You Like: Embracing that scuzzball lifestyle

Grade: 3 out of 5 Handguns

No Need to Make a Deal with the Devil: Go See ‘Ready or Not’!

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CREDIT: Eric Zachanowich/Twentieth Century Fox

Starring: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Nicky Guadagni, Kristian Bruun, Melanie Scrofano, Elyse Levesque, John Ralston

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rating: R for Ridiculous and Bloody Violence, Over-the-Top Profanity, and a Few Bumps of Cocaine

Release Date: August 21, 2019

Rich people are so different from the rest of us (HOW DIFFERENT ARE THEY?!) that some of them think it’s perfectly justifiable to hunt other people for fun. Or at least that’s what the 1924 short story “The Most Dangerous Game” and its many descendants would have us believe. The latest example is Ready or Not, which features the highest-stakes version of hide-and-seek I have ever witnessed. It takes place at the mansion of the Le Domas family, whose black sheep son Alex (Mark O’Brien) has returned home with his new bride Grace (Samara Weaving). The Le Domases made their fortune in the gaming industry, and it is no coincidence that tradition dictates that whenever someone marries into the family, she must play a little game with her in-laws on her wedding night.

As the newbie to all this eccentricity, Grace is of course the hider, which she discovers is quite a frightening position to be in when she learns that everyone is trying to kill her before the sun comes up. This may sound like some sort of twisted sport hunting, but while the Le Domases can be gleeful in their attempted murder, they would rather not have to go through it. And yet they have decided they must, for they believe that something very bad will happen to them if they do not complete the ritual. You see, a few generations ago, when the first Le Domas arrived in America, he made a deal with a strange benefactor who promised – and delivered – great fortune, but with the caveat that his family must perform this wedding night gameplay in perpetuity under penalty of execution. The underlying message is clear: the ultra-rich are prone to some rather offbeat logic to justify their lot in life.

The familial indoctrination on display here is strikingly similar to that of a cult, which has me wondering: is devotion to the principles of the ultra-rich a religious sect unto itself? The religious overtones are certainly there, as the mandatoriness of the lethal hide-and-seek is fashioned as a sort of deal with the devil. But while the Le Domases appear to be allegiant to some sort of dark lord, their loyalty is not all that different than the sort demanded by the God of the Old Testament. While watching Ready or Not, I couldn’t stop thinking of Abraham attempting to sacrifice his son Isaac after God commanded him to do so, with God then rewarding Abraham for his loyalty. Is Alex’s responsibility to kill his new wife just a similar test of faith?

The great satisfaction of Ready or Not is how these weighty issues of generational inheritance fit so seamlessly within the thrills of a relentless and-then-there-were-none-style slasher pic. The performances follow suit. Samara Weaving is like a threatened animal screaming full-bodied howls animated by profound incredulousness, with the survivor’s strength she summons recalling Marilyn Burns in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Sharni Vinson in You’re Next. As the parents and aunt of the groom, Andie MacDowell, Henry Czerny, and Nicky Guadagni are all disturbingly committed to the game, while Adam Brody, as Alex’s brother Daniel, is in eternal negotiations with the legacy he’s inherited. The blood in Ready or Not is disturbing, hilarious, and thought-provoking – what else can you ask for?!

Ready or Not is Recommended If You Like: You’re Next, Clue, The Purge

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Bloody Wedding Dresses