Review: ‘The Matrix Resurrections’ starring Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jessica Henwick, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris and Jada Pinkett Smith

December 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss in “The Matrix Resurrections” (Photo by Murray Close/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Matrix Resurrections”

Directed by Lana Wachowski

Culture Representation: Taking place in San Francisco, Tokyo and various parts of the universe, the sci-fi action flick “The Matrix Resurrections” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, African American and Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Thomas Anderson, also known as universe-saving hero Neo, gets pulled out of his “normal” life and back into the Matrix, as he strives to reunite with his long-lost love Trinity.

Culture Audience: “The Matrix Revolutions” will appeal primarily to people who are die-hard fans of “The Matrix” franchise and star Keanu Reeves, because everyone else will be easily lose interest in the movie’s jumbled and monotonous plot.

Jessica Henwick, Keanu Reeves and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in “The Matrix Resurrections” (Photo by Murray Close/Warner Bros. Pictures)

If you’re not familiar with any of the previous “Matrix” movies, then “The Matrix Resurrections” doesn’t care about you. The visual effects and stunts are dazzling, but this sci-fi/action movie’s plot is convoluted and duller than it should have been. Many people who’ve seen the previous Matrix movies will get confused or bored. You really need encyclopedic “Matrix” knowledge and an excellent memory to keep track of all the references to the previous “Matrix” movies that “The Matrix Resurrections” keeps dumping in the story without a proper explanation or much context.

Even if you prepare to watch “The Matrix Resurrections” by watching or re-watching the previous “Matrix” movies, you’ll notice that “The Matrix Resurrections” doesn’t do anything clever or innovative with the story. It’s just a tangled and tedious retelling of a basic adventure concept of a male hero going to a lot of trouble to impress and save the woman he loves.

In “The Matrix Resurrections,” which is the fourth movie in “The Matrix” film series, Lana Wachowski returns as a solo director, after co-directing the previous three “Matrix” films with her younger sister, Lilly Wachowski. The three previous films are 1999’s “The Matrix” (still the best one in the series), 2003’s “The Matrix Reloaded” and 2003’s “The Matrix Revolutions.” The first “Matrix” movie earned four well-deserved Academy Awards: Best Visual Efects, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.

Lana Wachowski co-wrote “The Matrix Resurrections” with David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon. These screenwriters have a clear disregard for the possibility that “The Matrix Resurrections” might be the first “Matrix” movie that some people will ever see. There is almost no attempt in “The Matrix Resurrections” to clearly explain what happened in the previous “Matrix” movies. When familiar characters appear in “The Matrix Resurrections,” viewers who are new to the franchise will not have an understanding of how these characters are relevant to the story, unless viewers know what these characters did in the previous “Matrix” movies.

There are some flashback scenes in “The Matrix Resurrections,” but they do little or nothing to explain the purpose of the characters who are shown in the flashbacks. Pity anyone who watches “The Matrix Resurrections” without this basic knowledge: Thomas Anderson, also known as Neo (played by Keanu Reeves), is the chosen hero, who is called The One, in an ongoing battle over control of humans and other beings in the universe. There’s an alternate world called the Matrix, where people are under the delusion that the world they live in is reality, but the Matrix is in fact a simulated reality.

In the first “Matrix” movie, Neo had a mentor named Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne), who gave Neo the choice between taking a blue pill or a red pill. The blue pill would ensure that Neo would continue to live a blissful but delusional existence. The red pill would open Neo’s eyes to the truth. Neo took the red pill.

During Neo’s battle to save the universe in the first “Matrix” movie, Neo met another warrior named Trinity (played by Carrie-Anne Moss), and they fell in love. Neo and Trinity are soul mates and the biggest love of each other’s life. Their biggest nemesis was Agent Smith (played by Hugo Weaving), who had the ability to shapeshift and morph into other people or clones of himself. This is an essential detail to have some understanding of “The Matrix Resurrections,” because when Agent Smith’s name is first uttered in the movie and he appears in disguise, viewers need to know why this character is such a big deal.

At the beginning of “The Matrix Reurrections,” which does a lot of time-jumping and traveling between various realities, Neo/Thomas is “retired” from his “saving the universe” legacy. He’s living and working in San Francisco as an award-winning, legendary video game designer at a company he co-founded called Deus Machina, where he works with people who are mostly in their 20s and 30s. Thomas is famous because he designed a blockbuster video game series called “The Matrix” that’s based on his own experiences.

Even though Thomas has achieved the pinnacle of success in this industry, he remains humble and low-key. His ambitious and greedy business partner Smith (played by Jonathan Groff) has coaxed a reluctant Thomas to do a fourth installment of “The Matrix” video game series. Smith mentions that Deus Machina’s parent company is Warner Bros., which is the movie’s way of referencing “The Matrix” movie franchise distributor Warner Bros. Pictures. There’s a self-deprecating “wink wink, nudge nudge” tone to the number of times that “The Matrix Resurrections” refers to this fourth installment (of Thomas’s video game series and this movie) as being a cash grab, until the joke is repeated so many times that it gets very old.

As for business partner Smith, the significance of the name is so obvious, when a big reveal about this character arrives, it’s actually no big surprise. (This reveal is already in one of the movie’s trailers.) He’s slick and has some high-octane fight scenes, but he’s not a particularly interesting adversary when he gets into conflicts with Thomas/Neo. Much like “The Matrix Resurrections,” Smith in this movie is very superficial and flashy with not much substance.

Thomas/Neo has been having nightmares or hallucinations, so he’s in therapy. And if he seems like a heartbroken loner, that’s because he is. He’s still pining for Trinity. But he’ll get his chance to reunite with her, because that’s essentially the main goal in this muddled film that takes too long (two hours and 28 minutes) to tell a story that could’ve been told in two hours or less.

Whenever “The Matrix Resurrections” gets stuck in a plot rut (and it happens a lot), it shows Thomas waking up from a “hallucination,” and he’s in the therapist office of his unnamed analyst (played by Neil Patrick Harris), who seems to know everything about Thomas. There’s a scene in the movie where Thomas/Neo looks in a mirror and finds out that his physical appearance is not what he thinks it is: He looks like an elderly man (played by Steven Roy) to many people.

The movie keeps people guessing on what’s reality and what’s not reality for Thomas/Neo, until it reaches a point when a lot of viewers won’t care much anymore. “The Matrix Resurrections” has too many gimmicks that are meant to deliberately confuse viewers. After a while, all these gimmicks are a turnoff. A big reveal toward the end the movie is not surprising because the movie telegraphs it many times.

Thomas’ identity as Neo has long been dormant, because most people think Neo is dead. However, a young computer hacker named Bugs (played by Jessica Henwick) has discovered that Neo is alive and well. In flashbacks, Bugs tells people how she found out: She works as a skyscraper window washer and saw Neo disguised as another man as he was about to jump off a nearby high-rise building. Bugs saw Neo jump off of the building and survive, so Bugs has been on a quest to find Neo ever since.

Of course, in a movie like “The Matrix Resurrections,” Bugs is no ordinary window washer/computer hacker. She has combat skills on the level of a super-soldier in a video game. Bugs has a computer hacking sidekick named Sequoia (played by Toby Onwumere), who’s mostly a virtual reality operator telling her what’s going on in alternate realities. Don’t expect a logical explanation for many of the identities of the new characters introduced in “The Matrix Resurrections.” It just seems like the filmmakers just made up things as they went along.

Bugs finds Neo, of course, and she takes it upon herself to be his “protector” when things go awry. Another person who finds Neo is the young-man version of Morpheus (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who predictably brings out that red pill and blue pill again for Neo to choose which path Neo’s life will take. However, anyone who’s seen any of the previous “Matrix” movies knows that Neo’s life was pre-ordained anyway.

One day, Thomas/Neo is hanging out at a coffee shop with a Deus Machina co-worker named Jude Gallagher (played by Andrew Lewis Caldwell), when Thomas/Neo sees Trinity, and Jude notices that Thomas/Neo seems attracted to her. However, Thomas/Neo pretends to Jude that he’s never met Trinity before. Thomas/Neo is too shy to approach her, so Jude (who tells Thomas/Neo that he thinks she’s a “MILF”) approaches Trinity on behalf of Thomas/Neo and makes the introduction.

Thomas/Neo is dismayed to find out that Trinity’s memory appears to have been blocked or erased, because she doesn’t know him when he starts talking to her. She’s now living as a woman named Tiffany, who builds and repairs motorcycles for a living. She’s also married to a guy named Chad (played by “John Wick” series director Chad Stahelski) and they have three underage kids together. At the coffee shop, Neo briefly meets Chad and two of the kids.

Later in the movie, Thomas/Neo and Trinity/Tiffany meet again at the same coffee shop, where she tells him that she thinks that she looks like Trinity in “The Matrix” video games. Trinity/Tiffany also says that when she mentioned the physical resemblance to her husband, he just laughed at her. It’s the first sign that Trinity/Tiffany might have a glimmer of recognition that maybe she had another life with Neo that has long been buried.

It’s enough to convince Neo to want to save Trinity from her blocked memory and get her back in his life. Along the way, he gets in numerous fights with people, creatures and machines that want to stop him in this quest. Bugs and Morpheus are also in most of these fight scenes with Neo. Also along for the ride to help Neo are young, good-looking combat warriors Lexy (played by Eréndira Ibarra) and Berg (played by Brian J. Smith), who look like they came from a modeling agency assembly line.

If you don’t know the purpose of Agents and Sentinels in the “Matrix” movies, then skip “The Matrix Resurrections.” If you have no idea who Niobe (played by Jada Pinkett Smith) and Sati (played as an adult by Priyanka Chopra Jonas) are and why they’re important to “The Matrix” saga, then skip “The Matrix Resurrections.” If you don’t care about the differences between the battle ships Nebuchadnezzar, the Hammer, and the Logos, then skip “The Matrix Resurrections.”

Simply put: “The Matrix Resurrections” can be extremely alienating to anyone who isn’t a die-hard, obsessive “Matrix” fan. Sometimes, people just to turn their brain off and watch an action-filled sci-fi movie. But most viewers don’t want to watch a movie sequel where their brains have to work overtime trying to figure out what’s going on and who certain characters are. And some of the characters didn’t need to be in the movie at all, such as Deus Machina executive Gwyn de Vere (played by Christina Ricci), which is a small, inconsequential role that’s a waste of Ricci’s talent.

If viewers get confused over what’s going in “The Matrix Resurrections,” it’s because “The Matrix Resurrections” filmmakers made the arrogant assumption that everyone watching should have seen all the previous “Matrix” movies. Therefore, a lot of “inside jokes” in “The Matrix Resurrections” are not as impactful as they could’ve been if the previous three “Matrix” movies had been better explained in “The Matrix Resurrections.” However, the screenplay and editing still make the movie very difficult to follow for people who’ve seen the previous “Matrix” movies but have hazy memories about them.

In between the action scenes of “The Matrix Resurrections” are characters standing around or sitting in meetings that are quite boring. A great deal of what they discuss is shared history that will be meaningless to viewers who don’t know anything about this shared history because they haven’t seen the previous “Matrix” movies. It’s like going to a class reunion when you never even went to the school.

Although the visual effects and stunts are the best things of “The Matrix Resurrections,” they’re not enough to make the movie feel like a relatable human saga. All of the acting is mediocre or just plain awful. The dialogue isn’t much better.

The movie’s attempts at comedy usually fall flat, including the silly and useless end-credits scene. Throughout the movie, Reeves seems like he’s sleepwalking through some of his lines of dialogue. That’s not what you want for a protagonist in what’s supposed to be a high-energy action flick.

“The Matrix Resurrections” seems so enamored with its parade of sci-fi and technological tricks, it fails to bring enough in the story that will make viewers feel connected to the characters in a relatable way. Unfortunately, “The Matrix Resurrections” leaves new viewers of the franchise in the dark about essential, interpersonal histories about many of the characters. Other viewers who know all about familiar “Matrix” characters before seeing “The Matrix Resurrections” might still end up feeling disconnected and disappointed that they haven’t learned anything fascinating at all.

Warner Bros. Pictures released “The Matrix Resurrections” in U.S. cinemas and on HBO Max on December 22, 2021.

Review: ‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run,’ starring the voices of Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Matt Berry, Clancy Brown, Rodger Bumpass, Carolyn Lawrence and Mr. Lawrence

March 3, 2021

by Carla Hay

Pictured clockwise, from left to right: Sandy Cheeks (voiced by Carolyn Lawrence), Patrick Star (voiced by Bill Fagerbakke), Plankton (voiced by Doug Lawrence), SpongeBob (voiced by Tom Kenny), Gary (on top of SpongeBob’s head) and Mr. Krabs (voiced by Clancy Brown) in “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” (Image courtesy of Paramount Animation)

“The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run”

Directed by Tim Hill

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional, underwater places of Bikini Bottom and the Lost City of Atlantic City, the live-action/animated film “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” features a predominantly white voice cast (with some African Americans, Asians and Latinos) in a comedic adventure story that’s part of the SpongeBob SquarePants franchise.

Culture Clash: SpongeBob SquarePants and his neighbor Patrick Star go on a mission to rescue SpongeBob’s best friend/pet snail Gary, which is being held captive by an egotistical overlord named King Poseidon.

Culture Audience: “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the SpongeBob SquarePants franchise and people who like family-friendly animation that can be enjoyed by various generations.

King Poseidon (voiced by Matt Berry) in “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” (Image courtesy of Paramount Animation

As the first computer-generated imagery (CGI) animated movie in the SpongeBob SquarePants franchise, “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” is an exuberant and eye-catching adventure that makes up for some predictable moments with just enough unexpected zaniness to make it worth watching for anyone who appreciates earnestly goofy animation. It’s not necessary to see any episodes of the long-running Nickelodeon animated series “SpongeBob SquarePants” or its spinoff movies (“Sponge on the Run” is the third one in the film series) to enjoy the movie, although it certainly provides some better context for some of the relationships in the movie.

“The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” has several scenes that are flashbacks to some of the characters’ childhoods. It’s an obvious promotion for “Kamp Koral: SpongeBob’s Under Years,” the prequel spinoff “SpongeBob” TV series that launches on Paramount+ (formerly known as CBS All Access) on the same day that “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” is available on the streaming service. “Kamp Koral” focuses on what some of the main characters did as children at Kamp Koral, and “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” gives a sense of what people can get expect from this spinoff TV series.

Written and directed by Tim Hill, “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” is the first “SpongeBob” movie to be released since the 2018 death of SpongeBob SquarePants creator Stephen Hillenburg, who died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 57. The movie has a dedication to Hillenburg before the end credits. Compared to 2004’s “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” and 2015’s “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water,” there’s a slightly wackier vibe to “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run,” thanks in large part to an amusing featured role from Keanu Reeves.

Things in the underwater city of Bikini Bottom are what SpongeBob fans can expect: SpongeBob SquarePants (voiced by Tom Kenny), the cheerfully upbeat sponge protagonist, is still working as a fry cook at a fast-food restaurant called the Krusty Krab, which is owned by his cranky Scottish boss Mr. Krabs (voiced by Clancy Brown). The pessimistic Squidward Tentacles (voiced by Rodger Bumpass) also works at the Krusty Krab. The tiny green copepod named Plankton (voiced by Mr. Lawrence) and his computer wife Karen (played by Jill Talley) are still scheming to get the secret recipe formula for the Kristy Krab’s Krabby Patty burgers, in order to boost Plankton and Karen’s failing rival restaurant the Chum Bucket.

This time, there’s a new challenge: SpongeBob’s best friend/pet snail Gary (also voiced by Kenny, who makes Gary sound like a cat) is stolen by Plankton, who gives Gary to the vain and tyrannical King Poseidon (voiced by Matt Berry) because the king uses snail slime to keep his face looking youthful. King Poseidon ran out of snails and offered a reward to anyone who could provide him with a useful snail. Plankton sees that offer as an opportunity to try to get in the king’s good graces and get revenge on SpongeBob. King Poseidon lives at Poseidon Palace, which is located in the Lost City of Atlantic City.

What follows is a madcap trek that involves SpongeBob and his amiable starfish neighbor Patrick Star (voiced by Bill Fagerbakke) going on a mission to find and rescue Gary. Along the way, they end up in a Western ghost town, where they have some off-the-wall encounters with flesh-eating zombie pirates (portrayed by live actors), a rapping gambler (played by Snoop Dogg) and a villainous zombie cowboy called El Diablo (played by Danny Trejo). But some of the funniest scenes in the movie are with a giant, advice-giving tumbleweed named Sage that rolls into SpongeBob and Patrick’s lives when they first arrive in the ghost town. Sage is a tumbleweed with a talking head of Reeves inside the center.

Also part of these antics is a new automated computer robot named Otto (voiced by Awkwafina), which the brainy squirrel Sandy Cheeks (voiced by Carolyn Lawrence) has given as a gift to Mr. Krabs. However, Mr. Krabs quickly gets annoyed with Otto and throws the robot away. Otto ends up becoming a crucial part of how the story develops.

The movie also has some cameos of celebrities playing a version of themselves as underwater animated characters that work at a nightclub in the Lost City of Atlantic City. Tiffany Haddish appears briefly on stage as a wisecracking fish that’s a stand-up comedian named Tiffany Haddock. Jazz saxophonist Kenny G plays a plant called Kelpy G, which does a smooth jazz version of “My Heart Will Go On,” the theme from the 1997 movie “Titanic.” It’s a somewhat subversive song choice, considering “Titanic” is a disaster movie where most of the characters end up drowning in the ocean.

There are some other endearingly oddball and unexpected choices in the movie, such as a criminal trial that takes place at the nightclub. The King Poseidon character plays with masculine and feminine stereotypes, by blurring the lines between obsessions with machismo and obsessions with beauty products. It’s why King Poseidon is not a typical villain in an animated film.

“The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” clearly knows its audience well, since it’s made for kids as well as adults. “SpongeBob SquarePants” has been on the air since 1999; therefore, many of the kids who grew up watching the show now have children of their own. It explains the inclusion of Reeves, Snoop Dogg, Kenny G and Danny Trejo as cameos, since these stars’ pop culture significance have a different meaning to people who are old enough remember the 1990s and early 2000s.

The movie’s very retro music soundtrack is definitely geared more to adults, with rock and pop tunes from the late 20th century, such as Foghat’s “Slow Ride,” Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” and Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” Weezer has two songs on the soundtrack: “It’s Always Summer in Bikini Bottom” and a cover version of a-ha’s “Take on Me” and the original song Also on the soundtrack is the Flaming Lips’ “Snail: I’m Avail.”

Mikros did the movie’s vivid CGI and animation, which is not as outstanding as a Pixar movie, but it’s better than most CGI animated films. Writer/director Hill moves things along at a brisk-enough pace, even though it’s very easy to know how the movie is going to end. “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” imparts a lot of positive messages of self-acceptance, but the characters have enough foibles and flaws to make the jokes relatable to viewers. Watch this movie if you like animated films and you’re up for an energetic diversion that might make you want more “SpongeBob” movies, regardless of how familiar or unfamiliar you might be with the franchise.

Paramount Pictures’ Paramount Animation and Nickelodeon Movies will release “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” on Paramount+ on March 4, 2021, the same date that Paramount Home Entertainment releases the movie on VOD. The movie was released in Canada in 2020.

Review: ‘Bill & Ted Face the Music,’ starring Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter

August 27, 2020

by Carla Hay

Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves in “Bill & Ted Face the Music” (Photo courtesy of Orion Pictures)

“Bill & Ted Face the Music”

Directed by Dean Parisot

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of Earth (particularly in the fictional San Dimas, California) and in outer space, the comedy film “Bill & Ted Face the Music” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and a few Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two middle-aged men who used to be rock stars face several obstacles when they try one last time to find a song that will save the world.

Culture Audience: “Bill & Ted Face the Music” will appeal primarily to fans of star Keanu Reeves and the previous “Bill & Ted” movies, but most people will be disappointed by this incoherent, not-very-funny sequel.

Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter in “Bill & Ted Face the Music” (Photo courtesy of Orion Pictures)

After years of discussions, false starts and pre-production problems, the long-awaited comedy sequel “Bill & Ted Face the Music” has arrived—and it lands with the kind of clumsy thud that happens when the movie’s title characters use their time-traveling phone booth to crash-land in a different era. The movie is overstuffed with too many bad ideas that are sloppily executed. And the end result is an uninspired mess that brings few laughs.

The movie is the follow-up to 1989’s “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and 1991’s inferior “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.” “Bill & Ted Face the Music” is by far the worst of the three movies, which all star Keanu Reeves as Ted Theodore Logan and Alex Winter as Bill S. Preston. You’d think that with all the years that have passed between the second and third movies that it would be enough time to come up with a great concept for the third film. But no. “Bill & Ted Face the Music” writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, who also wrote the first two “Bill & Ted” movies, have added several new characters and unnecessary subplots as a way to distract from the story’s very weak plot.

In “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” the dimwitted duo Bill and Ted were high-school students in the fictional Sam Dimas, California, with dreams of making it big as a two-man rock band called Wyld Stallyns. Bill and Ted were on the verge of flunking out of school unless they got an A+ grade on their final history exam. Through a series of bizarre circumstances, they’re visited from another planet by someone named Rufus (played by George Carlin), who gave Bill and Ted a time-travel phone booth.

Bill and Ted used the time-traveling booth to collect real-life historical people (Napoleon, Billy the Kid, Ludwig van Beethoven, Genghis Khan, Abraham Lincoln, Sigmund Freud and Joan of Arc), in order to bring them back to San Dimas as part of Bill and Ted’s school presentation for their history exam. Two British princesses from another century named Elizabeth and Joanna ended up as Bill and Ted’s girlfriends and decided to stay in San Dimas with Bill and Ted.

In “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey,” Bill and Ted fought evil robot replicas of themselves that were sent from the future to alter Bill and Ted’s destiny of becoming rock stars who can save the world. Along the way, the real Bill and Ted also battled with Death (played by William Sadler) by playing a series of games. Bill married Joanna, Ted married Elizabeth, and each couple had a child born in the same year. And (this won’t be a spoiler if you see “Bill & Ted Face the Music”) Wyld Stallyns also became a superstar act.

In “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” it’s explained in the beginning of the film that Wyld Stallyns’ success was short-lived. In the subsequent years, Bill and Ted made many failed attempts at a comeback. They are now unemployed musicians who are trying not to be bitter over their lost fame and fortune. But their wives are starting to get fed up with Bill and Ted’s irresponsible lifestyle.

Joanna (played by Jayma Mays) and Elizabeth (played by Erinn Hayes) are the family breadwinners because Bill and Ted blew all their rock-star money and don’t have steady incomes. Bill and Joanna’s daughter Wilhelmina “Billie” S. Logan (played by Samara Weaving) and Ted and Elizabeth’s daughter Thea Theadora Preston (played by Brigette Lundy-Paine) are both 24 years old and take after their fathers, in that they are both unemployed and not very smart but they are passionate about music.

The movie’s poorly written screenplay assumes that many viewers have already seen the first “Bill & Ted” movies to understand some of the jokes. But even people who saw the first two movies might have seen the movies so long ago that these jokes won’t land very well anyway. Some of the jokes in “Bill & Ted Face the Music” have a little better context if you saw the first two “Bill & Ted” movies, but references to the first two movies make the most sense in the scenes with the wives of Bill and Ted.

In the beginning of “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” a wedding reception is taking place where Bill and Ted give a toast to the newlyweds and then inevitably give a terrible music performance. The newlyweds are Ted’s younger brother Deacon (played by Beck Bennett) and Missy (played by Amy Stoch, reprising her role from the first two “Bill & Ted” movies), who was married to Bill’s father in the first movie in a May-December romance. Missy is not that much older than Bill, and in the first “Bill & Ted” movie, there’s a running joke that Bill lusts after his stepmother Missy.

In “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” it’s mentioned in a voiceover that in the years since the second movie took place, Missy divorced Bill’s father (who is not seen in “Bill & Ted Face the Music”), and then married and divorced Ted’s policeman father (played by Hal Landon Jr., who reprises his role as Ted’s stern father), who is now chief of the local police. And now, Missy is married to Ted’s younger brother Deacon, who is also a cop. These awkward family dynamics could have been mined for hilarious situations and more jokes in the movie, but they fall by the wayside because the movie gets caught up in some messy subplots that get tangled up with each other.

Bill, Ted, Joanna and Elizabeth are in couples counseling with Dr. Taylor Wood (played by Jillian Bell), who is baffled over why both couples want to be in counseling sessions with her at the same time, as if it’s a double date. Bell is a terrific comedic actress, but the dull lines she’s given in “Bill & Ted Face the Music” are so listless and unimaginative, that her talent is wasted in this film. It’s eventually revealed that unless Bill and Ted change their destiny, their wives will leave them and their children will be estranged from Bill and Ted.

How do Bill and Ted find out that they can change their destiny? It’s because someone from outer space comes to San Dimas to tell them the world is ending and can only be saved if Bill and Ted find the song that will not only unite the world but also restore reality as they know it. The visitor from outer space is named Kelly (played by Kristen Schaal), who is sympathetic to Bill and Ted and wants to help them. She has arrived on Earth at the behest of her mother called the Great Leader (played by Holland Taylor), a jaded matriarch who doesn’t have much faith that Bill and Ted can deliver the song that can save the world.

Bill and Ted’s time-traveling phone booth is brought back from outer space (with a hologram of Rufus, using brief archival footage of the late Carlin), so Bill and Ted jump back and forth to different times and places in their quest to find the song. Dave Grohl (of Foo Fighters and Nirvana fame) has a cameo as himself in one of these scenes. Meanwhile, the “world is ending” scenes include historical figures ending up in the wrong places or people suddenly disappearing, as if to show that history and reality are being warped into an irreversible void.

The movie also spends a lot of screen time showing Bill and Ted encountering different versions of themselves in future and/or alternate realities. These scenarios include Bill and Ted as old men in a nursing home; Bill and Ted with bodybuilder physiques in prison; and Bill and Ted as successful rock stars with fake British accents. All of these scenes mostly serve the purpose to show Reeves and Winter acting silly in various hairstyles, costumes and prosthetic makeup. However, almost none of these scenes are genuinely funny

And if all of that weren’t enough to overstuff the movie, there’s a simultaneous storyline with Billie and Thea doing their own time traveling. While in San Dimas, space alien Kelly met the two daughters and explained the urgency of how Bill and Ted have to save the world. In order to help their fathers, Billie and Thea decide they want to create the ultimate band that can accompany the Wyld Stallyns when they play the song that will save the world. Kelly provides Billie and Thea with their own time-traveling spacecraft, and so off Thea and Billie go to recruit top musicians to join the band.

They end up recruiting Jimi Hendrix (played by DazMann Still, doing a barely passable impersonation) and Louis Armstrong (played by Jeremiah Craft, doing an awful, mugging impersonation), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (played by Daniel Dorr, doing an average impersonation), plus two fictional musicians: Chinese violinist Ling Lum (played by Sharon Gee) from 2600 B.C. and North African drummer Grom (played by Patty Anne Miller) from 11,500 B.C. And because apparently no A-list superstars rapper wanted to be in this train-wreck movie, Kid Cudi (playing himself) is also in this makeshift band.

Meanwhile, the Great Leader grows impatient with the bungling Bill and Ted, so she sends a robot named Dennis Caleb McCoy (played by Anthony Carrigan) to assassinate Bill and Ted. The robot keeps announcing that his name is Dennis Caleb McCoy and that’s supposed to be a joke—but it’s a joke that gets old by the second time it’s said. And it comes as no surprise that Death (with Sadler reprising the role) is in this “Bill & Ted” movie too, which recycles some plot elements of “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.”

A huge part of the appeal of the first two “Bill & Ted” movies is that these characters were young and dumb. Their “party on, dude” attitude and antics were meant to be laughed at because it was a parody of how a lot of young people act when they have the freedom to be reckless. But now that Bill and Ted are middle-aged, their doltish mindset isn’t so funny anymore, which is why the filmmakers came up with the gimmick of having Bill and Ted’s children take up the mantle of being the “young and dumb” characters in this movie.

Lundy-Paine as Thea gives the better progeny performance, since she’s believable as Ted’s daughter. And even though her body language seems a bit forced and awkward at times, Lundy-Paine shows a knack for comedic timing. Unfortunately, Weaving is miscast as Bill’s daughter Billie, because Billie doesn’t look like she inherited any of the mannerisms that would make her recognizable as Bill’s daughter. In other words, her “dimwit” act is not credible at all. And it might be a compliment to say that Weaving is just too smart for this movie.

Reeves and Winter do exactly what you expect them to do: act like middle-aged versions of Bill and Ted. But the movie looks like it was thrown together haphazardly instead of being a great and original idea that writers Matheson and Solomon had the time to work on for all these years. You don’t have to see the first two “Bill & Ted” movies to understand what’s going on in “Bill & Ted Face the Music” because so much of the story is lazily written dreck that will confuse some people anyway. Seeing the first two “Bill & Ted” movies right before seeing “Bill & Ted Face the Music” might also underscore how much better the first two movies were.

And for a movie that’s supposed to center on music, “Bill & Ted Face the Music” has original songs that are utterly generic and forgettable. There used to be a time when a “Bill &Ted” soundtrack was sort of a big deal in the music business. Not anymore.

Just like the misguided “Dumb and Dumber” and “Zoolander” sequels that had the original comedic duo stars but came decades after the original movies, “Bill & Ted Face the Music” arrives too late and falls very short of expectations that weren’t very high anyway. Whereas the first “Bill & Ted” movie sparingly used the idea of Bill and Ted confronting their alternate-reality selves, “Bill & Ted Face the Music” over-uses this concept as filler for a shambolic, insipid plot that is the very definition of “throw everything against the wall and see what sticks.” “Bill & Ted Face the Music” is like the equivalent of loud, screeching feedback from an amped guitar that is grossly out of tune and ends up creating a lot of unnecessary and irritating noise.

Orion Pictures will release “Bill & Ted Face the Music” in U.S. cinemas and on VOD on August 28, 2020.

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