The last three movies I saw in a theater were “The Invisible Man”, “The Hunt” and a second viewing of Pixar’s “Onward”. Since then, everything I’ve seen has been home video and Netflix and screeners on my phone. Then I noticed that the Elmira Drive-In was showing not one but two new Hollywood releases, so I got in my car and went.

The first movie of the night was “The New Mutants” (20th Century Studios, 2020, 98 min.), and according to Wikipedia, it’s the last entry in the “X-Men” franchise now that Disney has acquired 20th Century Fox. And it’s also been the unfortunate victim of a great deal of reshoots, delays and rounds of editing and post-production. (The movie was shot in 2017, so do the math.)

Maybe that’s why “The New Mutants” feels so…perfunctory. Here’s a movie about five troubled teens with various powers (Blu Hunt, Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton of “Stranger Things” and Henry Zaga) being held captive in a remote mansion/laboratory for unknown reasons. Hunt, the newcomer, doesn’t even know her powers, the motives of their matron/keeper (Alice Braga) are murky, Hunt and Williams develop a sweet friendship that becomes romantic. Once all the kids’ super-abilities are sorted, we’re hurtling toward the ending and at 98 minutes, it’s all over.

Its major flaw, at least at the drive-in, is that a good deal of the opening set-up and the climax of the picture are so dark that it’s very hard to get a bead on what’s actually happening on screen. Perhaps these drive-in screenings will prompt filmmakers to see what their work looks like outdoors, and generate new prints that are easier to see.

Next up was “Bill and Ted Face the Music” (Orion, 2020, 92 min.), and this one turned out to be a satisfying, silly masterpiece that’s oddly hopeful in a way I think we could all really use right now. Bill and Ted mean a lot to me in my career, as I’ve been able to review the whole saga as it’s unfolded. How many times does a movie franchise drop two well-received entries within a couple of years, take a 29-year hiatus and come back with a movie that really hits the sweet spot? I can’t think of any others. Can you?

The plot is so twisted and bizarre that I wouldn’t want to spoil the totally excellent experience. Let’s just say that Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) are back after nearly three decades and still haven’t written the song that unites mankind in peace and harmony. But the time is getting near, and the story combines elements from both previous films in fresh ways, throws in two genuine scene stealers as Bill and Ted’s daughters, Samara Weaving as “Thea” Preston and Brigette Lundy-Paine as “Billie” Logan, and serves as a reminder that William Sadler as Death is a much-underrated comic joy to behold.

Kevin Smith calls this kind of movie “fan service”. But movies like Smith’s “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot” and “Scoob!” are lame, lazy fan service. “Bill and Ted Face the Music” won’t get the credit for being as smart and clever as it is, but for long-time fans, it really pays off comedically and emotionally.

Be excellent to each other. And party on, dudes!


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