Director: Pete Hewitt
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, William Sadler, Joss Ackland, George Carlin
Watch Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey is one of those sequels that feels underrated, thanks to its relationship to a more popular predecessor. In a perfectly on-brand time jump, 1989’s Excellent Adventure arrived at the tail of one decade and Bogus Journey came early on in the next.
Aside from a change of director, the main difference is that the sequel is significantly more surreal, using classic films The Seventh Seal and A Matter Of Life & Death as its pop culture touchstones. It’s still a goofy, fundamentally optimistic sci-fi comedy; it just also happens to be one in which the title characters are murdered in act one.
For the uninitiated, Bill S Preston Esq. (Alex Winter) and Theodore “Ted” Logan (Keanu Reeves) are destined to bring about a utopian future society, which will be founded on their music and the guiding principle of being excellent to each other. De Nomolos (Joss Ackland) detests this society and sends robot duplicates of Bill and Ted back in time to kill them before their band Wyld Stallyns can perform at a crucial competition.
This sends the real Bill and Ted on a metaphysical journey where they take on Death himself (William Sadler) at some modern board games, visit heaven, and encounter a new alien pal named Station. You might expect one thing from Excellent Adventure, but this near-perfect follow-up uses the flexibility of Winter and Reeves’ extremely likeable characters to give us something completely different.
Written under the working title of Bill & Ted Go To Hell, screenwriters Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon deliver a much more conceptually ambitious script, loaded with far-out characters and existential hijinks. It’s just as funny as the first film, but significantly bolder with it, all while imagining that everything is going to turn out alright in the end.
In terms of arriving at the top of the 1990s, there are aspects that jar slightly here. As others have remarked about the films, calling someone a “fag”, in that flippantly homophobic way that movie characters did around this time, doesn’t exactly jive with being excellent to each other. It wouldn’t stick out so much, except that it’s the wrong choice of word in the wrong place; the smallest of massive flaws in a series that otherwise promises that niceness will ultimately prevail.
There’s nothing naïve or guileless about the film itself and the staggering weirdness of this sequel is hugely endearing. Winter and Reeves are on great form, but Sadler effortlessly steals the show as Death, furnishing the film with a comic performance that rightly stands as one of the all-time great screen depictions of the Grim Reaper.
Bogus Journey garnered mixed reviews at the time, but its lasting cult appeal was assured from the moment it was made. After almost three decades, 2019 will finally see Matheson and Solomon’s third instalment, titled Bill & Ted Face The Music, go into production, with the two leads reprising their roles.
Where Excellent Adventure was about history, Bogus Journey is an eclectic, hilarious, and ultimately hopeful film about living in the present. We’re looking forward to the third part of that trilogy because with everything going on in the world, it would be nice to feel this good about the future again.