Reviews

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure

4

Still a most triumphant time, 25 years on

To anyone who argues that Bill and Ted saving the future with song is bogus, we say only this: Woah – not so fast, dickweed. After all, imagine if you found a time machine, visited 1989 and told people how triumphant Keanu Reeves was to become.

What would they say if you claimed that – clunkers aside – Keanu went on to make era-defining indie classics (My Own Private Idaho), action genre-setters (Speed), action movies with future Oscar-winners (Point Break) and brainy sci-fi bar-raisers (The Matrix)? Or that the doofus behind Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan would one day sire the ‘Sad Keanu’ meme? You’d be sectioned.

All of which suggests that Reeves’ breakout picture may not be as dozy as it seems. True, two stoner types spouting “Bodacious!” does require a certain indulgence. But Craig Matheson and Ed Solomon’s script plays fast and frisky with time travel’s spaghetti loops.

It dodges the pitfalls of message-heavy teen movies and skirts the spite of the dumb-and-dumber era it arguably helped birth. Add two innately loveable leads and you can see it takes some smarts to sell something quite this daft.

Recognising the need to keep his main characters endearing, director Stephen Herek (Critters) pushed for the “puppy factor” in Alex Winter (‘Bill S. Preston, Esquire’) and Reeves’ performances, a bounding enthusiasm that keeps the story fresh and brisk even if it sounds second-hand and scrambled down.

Herek’s pitch – Fast Times At Ridgemont High meets Back To The Future – is a fair fit: future Bill and Ted disciple Rufus (George Carlin) lends our heroes a time-travelling phone box so they can round up some historical personages for their history report, dodge military school and live to save the future.

But our heroes’ stupefied stares and good-natured grins forge a unique and indelible screen dynamic, such that the winning mantra “Be excellent to each other” may be one reason why we still love Reeves.

Slow as our heroes are, once the plot starts it rarely stalls, least of all due to any time-travel conundrums: Solomon’s script notes reveal how rigorously he whittled those away. With Monty Python And The Holy Grail production designer Roy Forge Smith stumping up budget historical settings, the doltish duo breeze through eras and adventures.

Trailer moments pour in like a parody of set-piece cinema: we get war, barroom brawls, near-death peril, sword fights, chases, a montage... A housework montage, yes, but a montage rammed with great blink/miss sight gags, like feminist icon Joan of Arc washing the pots or Freud wrestling with a phallic vacuum cleaner.

Despite a teetering stack of supporting turns, the historical dudes each get their comic due. Napoleon develops a complex about losing at bowling, Joan discovers a taste for aerobics, Freud wields a sausage-on-a-stick while hitting on two poodle-permed girls, Lincoln indulges in self-portraiture, Beethoven discovers prog rock, Genghis Khan destroys a sports shop with a baseball bat.

When all the fun steers towards Bill and Ted’s school presentation, a message emerges about the value of knuckling down and learning something. But their Excellent Adventure is never sanctimonious; it avoids high-handed homilies.

Personable rather than preachy, it ranks among those ’80s underdog classics (see also The Goonies) that fans still want more of. We’ve had a Bogus Journey, but Reeves says a threequel script exists, hinged on the writing of the world-saving song.

Third time’s often the harm with comedy franchises, but could Bill & Ted break the pattern? To tide you over until then, disc extras (unavailable for review) include an episode of the animated series – which Reeves and Winter voiced – plus interviews, biographies of historical dudes and a guide to Bill and Ted’s lingo.

Which, of course, may not be necessary because it already owns a place in history. Yes way!
 

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