Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989) / Comedy-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: PG for language and some rude humor
Running Time: 90 min.
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin, Bernie Casey, Amy Stock-Poynton, Terry Camilleri, Dan Shor, Tony Steedman, Rod Loomis, Al Leong, Jane Wiedlin, Robert V. Barron, Clifford David, Hal Landon Jr., J. Patrick McNamara, Frazier Bain, Diane Franklin, Kimberley LaBelle, Clarence Clemons, Martha Davis, Fee Waybill
Director: Stephen Herek
Screenplay: Chris Matheson, Ed Solomon
Review published January 7, 2007
A quintessential teen flick of the late 1980s, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure has gone from minor cult hit to an adolescent staple, with an archetype that would be emulated by other famous "stoner" teen duos like Wayne & Garth (from Wayne's World) and Beavis & Butthead. It's a formula that seemed to work well, as the dumb (but cute) fun allows you to laugh with the comic duo rather than at them, with director Stephen Herek (Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead, Holy Man) never making the mistake of taking the characters, their situations, or even the entirety of human history all that seriously. Don't bother trying to bring in any logic or common sense into this adolescent fantasy, and you'll probably be in the right frame of mind to enjoy the modest humor and infectious geniality that the characters provide.
The setting of the film is San Dimas, California, in 1988, where two high school-aged boys, Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Winter, The Lost Boys), and Ted "Theodore" Logan (Reeves, A Walk in the Clouds) are on the verge of flunking out of school. Their last hope of academic survival is their upcoming oral presentation in History, which they only have a couple of days to prepare for -- they both need an "A+". It's at this critical moment in their lives that they are visited by a man called Rufus, along with themselves from the near future, declaring that they are about to go on a wild, time-hopping adventure through history in order to gain first-hand knowledge to help them on the test. You see, the future civilization is built around the music made by the two young men in their band called Wyld Stallyns, which has brought forth an era of peace, harmony, and tranquility to future generations. Using a phone booth as a means of transportation, Bill and Ted visit various eras, picking up persons of historical significance (Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon, Socrates, etc.) in order to not only pass their test, but also to make the world a better place for the Earth's progeny.
I probably won't be going out on a limb by stating that one's enjoyment of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure will probably come down to the age, mentality, and current mood of the viewer who sees it, as this is primarily a film aimed at young adults, with additional appeal to kids and some adults who also enjoy films aimed at younger viewers. It's not the sort of film that will have your bowled over with laughter, but it is one that might actually make you smile now and then, and in between, it has a pleasant delivery and likeable enough performances for it to at least pass as an amiable time-killer.
While some might complain that this sort of movie is indicative of the dumbing down of teen films that occurred during this time period, it can be argued that this actually has the opposite effect. It makes World History seem like fun, with characters we can all relate to (mostly because they come down to our level within the film). Most of the characters play to certain stereotypes and well-known personality traits, but given that nearly everything else about the film resides on the surface level, it's disingenuous to expect the real-life historical counterparts to appear, rather than the idealized, cartoonish representations that those viewers with only a passing familiarity with them might know. To the film's credit, the supporting cast of kooky characters is excellent (and not just in the slang usage of the term used by Bill & Ted), with some choice rock allusions and smaller roles for E Street Band sax player Clarence Clemons, Go-Go's guitarist Jane Wiedlin, and a few other cameos.
Watching it nowadays, it's one of those movies that one might, based on outward appearances, be tagged as being too dated for today's audiences, but I think in this case, the datedness works in its favor. Like many other teen comedies of the 1980s, there is a sense of innocent fun and adventure that comes without high overhead, and also without pretense on being anything more than a film meant for entertainment only. As such, it will never be embraced by the film snobs, but, as something to entertain the young and old alike, while it may not be a home run with everyone, it will almost certainly be a hit. You won't have to head out to the Waterloop to experience a fun ride -- it's all right here in this compact 90-minute most triumphant adventure.
-- Followed by Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey in 1991. Also followed by a television cartoon series from 1990-1991, and a short-lived live-action TV series in 1992.
©2007 Vince Leo