Keanu Reeves can now be seen in "Bill & Ted Face the Music." File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo
NEW YORK, Aug. 28 (UPI) -- Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter say the "be excellent to each other" message at the heart of their Bill & Ted film franchise has never been more meaningful than it is in 2020.
Bill and Ted Face the Music, the third movie in the time-travel comedy series, was released on pay-per-view platforms Friday.
It arrived amid the real-life backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic and the killings of Black people at the hands of police that have sparked civil unrest in several U.S. cities. Add to that a contentious presidential race.
"The idea of being excellent to each other is a very good idea," Reeves told reporters in a recent Zoom video conference. "It's relevant all the time. I guess now it has more impact just because of the situation that we find ourselves in."
"The Bill & Ted movies have an inherent sweetness and a theme of inclusivity of people being kind to each other and coming together," he said. "That was certainly the story Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon set out to write with this third one many years before there was a COVID."
Directed by Galaxy Quest filmmaker Dean Parisot, Face the Music is the sequel to Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989) and Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey (1991.) It co-stars William Sadler, Kristen Schaal, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Holland Taylor, Kid Cudi and Jillian Bell.
The movie revisits the affable, titular slackers more than 30 years after they learn their destiny is to bring harmony to the universe by creating amazing music.
Spoiler alert. They still haven't composed that unifying song, and time is running out. Naturally, they decide to travel into the future and steal the tune from themselves.
The actors said it was important they play their now-middle-aged characters so they seem familiar to viewers, without devolving into caricatures.
"They've lived life. They've got more mature daughters and relationships with their wives," Reeves said. "We feel the weight of these guys, as well as their joy and their lightness and their spirit."
While Reeves starred in countless films, including the John Wick and Matrix blockbusters, after his Bill & Ted days, Winter directed documentaries like Showbiz Kids, Trust Machine and The Panama Papers.
Fortunately, since Face the Music had been in development for about 12 years, he had plenty of time to prepare for reprising his iconic role of Bill S. Preston, Esq.
"It gave me a chance to wrap my head around who this guy was at this age," Winter said. "Keanu and I spent a lot of time talking about those things. It wasn't like I had to suddenly turn it on like a switch."
The Lost Boys alum was happy to briefly return to acting.
"The whole experience has a kind of warmth to it," Winter said. "I felt very good about what we made and I felt great appreciation for having had the experience."
Reeves enjoyed updating the 1980s dudes for contemporary times.
"The writers did that in the way they structured the film and the plot of the film. It was all about facing the music and being in the moment," Reeves said, noting that when the movie opens and Bill and Ted are performing at a wedding, they aren't playing Van Halen riffs the way they did when they were teens.
"They have expanded their musical excellence. They've moved on. They've developed from that."
Their grown daughters, who are also eternally upbeat, aspiring musicians, also helped move the story forward.
"We had to find a grounded foundation from which to launch this completely insane narrative," Winter said.
Weaving and Lundy-Paine may hilariously act and sound like their dads, but they also made their characters Thea and Billie distinctly their own.
"It wasn't at all just watching our movies five times and then doing us, thankfully. They just created their own characters that were very unique to them and their worldviews," Winter said.
The young women also act as a bridge to a generation of movie audiences that might not have seen a Bill & Ted movie until now.
"We tried to make a film that would be enjoyable whether you'd seen the first two or not. So, we will soon find out if that is true," Winter joked.
Greatly missed this time around was Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey scene-stealer George Carlin, who died in 2008 at age 71.
Reeves said the down-to-earth Carlin brought "class" to the role of Rufus, Bill and Ted's protector and guide.
"He worked really hard on Rufus and he brought a weight to it. Of course, it's George Carlin coming from the future," Reeves laughed. "It was really extraordinary to have the chance to work with such an incredible person and artist."
Returning from Bogus Journey for Face the Music is the fan-favorite Grim Reaper, played by Roswell and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. actor William Sadler.
Sadler didn't think a third movie was ever going to happen.
"After the first decade, I thought, 'Oh well.' Then the second decade went by. Twenty-nine years later, they finally got it up and running. After all this time, it was really lovely. I was surprised," Sadler told UPI in a separate interview.
Grim Reaper played bass with Bill and Ted's band, Wyld Stallyns, before they broke up.
"I think the script handled it really well. Some time has passed and the boys haven't quite written that song that is going to save the world yet, so you've gotta get the band back together," Sadler said.
Returning to the role exceeded Sadler's expectations and he is excited to share the franchise with a new generation of people who "need to be excellent to each other."
Sadler thinks the movie is being released at the perfect time.
"This year has been hellish for so many people around the world. This is a much-needed respite. Having this message and a bit of fun, I think it's going to be a bright spot in a pretty dark chapter," he said.
Parisot had been attached to Face the Music for seven years before he was finally given the green light -- and 37 days -- to shoot it in New Orleans.
"There is so much good will that it was able to get made really on the basis of 'We just want to make it,'" the director told UPI in another chat, recalling how, over the years, the filmmakers would secure funding but then it would fall through. "It was a long process, but we all stuck together."
Reeves and Winter were consummate professionals on set, which made everybody's jobs easier.
"They rehearsed everything. They came totally prepared for everything. If that hadn't happened, we wouldn't have been able to make it for 37 days the way we did," Parisot said.
Digital effects are cheaper and more accessible than they used to be, which made Bill and Ted's latest adventures less of a daunting task to execute.
It also helped that there were prosthetics and special effects wizards who were big Bill & Ted fans and willing to work cheap.
"This was not a big-budget movie," Parisot said. "The challenge was we were going to Hell, the past, the future and [show] the destruction of all space and time. That is big movie stuff, but it's easier now."