Retro movie review: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

“Be excellent to each other.”

“Party on dudes!”

You may not think those two pieces of California stoner dude life advice would be sufficiently worldchanging in scope or intent to form the basis of a future Utopian society but then you are not Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) or Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and you are not members of Wild Stallyns, the band whose music changes the world as we know it.

If you were one of those two guys, high school students in 1988 who are *this* close to failing history and thus failing right out of school unless they produce an A+ worthy presentation in the next 24 hours, you would appreciate that both those phrases are two great pieces of philosophy on which to base your life.

But in the gloriously un-self-conscious joyously life-affirming nonsense of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, directed by Stephen Herek to a script by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, not even Bill or Ted fully understand just what their two bon mots come to mean to the people of 2688 San Dimas, California who live in a world without war and hunger and with perfect alignment of planets, aliens and pets.

However, just as they are struggling to put together a presentation which hinges based on, shall we say, some fairly shaky ideas of who did what and why way back when, and yes, even how you pronounce their names (“Beethoven” is pronounced like an odd kitchen appliance), a man called Rufus (George Carlin) appears from the hallowed future in a phone box to tell them they are, indeed, the future of humanity’s perfect peace and happiness.

That’s a lot to take in but Bill and Ted, who tend to approach pretty much all of life with a gloriously unflappable sangfroid (although the threat of military school by Captain Jonathan Logan, played by Hal Landon Jr., to his son does have Ted rattled), take all in their stride, adapting to the idea of time travel with barely a moment of hesitation.

Now, admittedly, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is not the type of film that is going to spend too much time worrying about scientific accuracy or how easily the film’s protagonists adapt to what is a fairly mind-bending concept, and indeed the fact that our two goofily lovable protagonists dive right into the telephone box is pretty par for the course when it comes to these characters and these films.

The intent of the movie is less about the bits that make it up but rather how these two seemingly hopeless guys, who are actually pretty bright but not all that keen on doing much with that brightness, make the best of the most bodacious circumstances in which they find themselves.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure‘s great appeal, quite apart from the delightfully appealing performances by then relatives newcomers Reeves and Winters, is the way in which all the characters handle the most outlandish of developments and concepts as if they pop up all the time.

And it’s not just Bill and Ted who goes with the very out there flow.

As they phone box their way through history, collecting Napoleon Bonaparte (Terry Camilleri), Billy the Kid (Dan Shor), Socrates (Tony Steedman), Sigmund Freud (Rod Loomis), Genghis Khan (Al Leong), Joan of Arc (Jane Wiedlin), Abraham Lincoln (Robert V. Barron) and Ludwig van Beethoven (Clifford David) along the way, it becomes gleefully and hilariously apparent that no one in this film finds anything that comes across their path to be the least bit and confounding.

In no time at all, Kidd and Socrates are joining forces to save Bill and Ted from untimely medieval fates and Napoleon takes to watersliding like he was born to it and not pretensions to French imperial greatness.

It’s all very, very silly, but it works because everyone seems so absolutely committed to the masterfully executed idiocy of it all.

There is close to nothing in this riotous 1 1/2 hours of nonsensical fun that makes the least bit of sense or pays any heed to logic but you care not a jot because Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is so confident in its own storytelling bravura and anchored by such winningly sincere performances that you happily buy into all the hilarious illogicality.

It helps that at the heart of the film sits a far bigger sense of emotional resonance that you might expect of a film like this.

Bill and Ted are basically really good, well-meaning guys, they want the best for their lives and actually do want to work hard to get it; they just need the tools and opportunity to make it happen, both of which Rufus provides them with when he lands in a Circle K convenience store parking lot one night in a fiery-static ensnared phone booth.

It helps that Bill and Ted, both the present and future versions who meet in the carpark, are so enthusiastically into the task they have been given,

Theirs is a world populated by boundless excitement, wonder and possibility, and even though they appreciate the gravity of their perilous school situation and how Ted going to military school in Alaska, thus separating them and ruining their dreams of musical glory (most heinously, of course), they seem to accept that life will find a way and they will have a fine old time going where it leads.

They are the ultimate half-glass-full optimists and watching them romp through history, essentially abducting historical figures for their do-or-academically-die history presentation, and solve every problem that comes their way with chutzpah and chewing gum is an unbridled, joke-filled delight.

They are so into the task at hand, and so convinced of its success, that even as Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure seems to be counting down to everything not working out, they keep going as if success, while imperilled, is still very much assured.

It’s a joy to watch as a result, with this seemingly throwaway lightweight film coming with more built-in inspiration and heartwarming wonder than you have any right to expect.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is proof, vibrantly, smile-inducing, pessimism-banishing proof that anything in life is possible if your mind to it, and that just because something might seem over the top, out there, weird and impossible, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t given it a shot because who knows where it all might lead?

To most excellent places of course …

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