VOD film review: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Mark Harrison | On 26, Sep 2020
Director: Stephen Herek
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin, Hal Landon Jr, Bernie Casey
Watch Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
“Be excellent to each other. “And party on, dudes.” Beyond these objectively agreeable values, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure has aged well for its easygoing yet deceptively complicated brand of comedy. Where some modern blockbusters we could mention dally with complex “temporal pincer movements”, this gives us Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter as characters who are essentially doing their best, such as it is.
Based on a stand-up comedy routine by screenwriters Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, the film introduces Bill S Preston Esq. (Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Reeves) teetering on the eve of their almost-certain failure in an oral history presentation because they’re too preoccupied with their awful garage band Wyld Stallyns. While their teacher Mr Ryan (Bernie Casey) is reluctant to flunk the likeable but dim-witted duo, Ted’s dad (Hal Landon Jr) is raring to split the duo up by sending his son off to an Alaskan military academy if they don’t pass.
Unbeknownst to anyone in the year 1988, Wyld Stallyns’ music and philosophy is the foundation of an incredibly advanced technological utopia, which sends Rufus (George Carlin) back in a time machine shaped like a phone booth to help the two hapless students. With all of history at their fingertips, Bill and Ted start rounding up famous figures like Napoleon Bonaparte, Abraham Lincoln, and Joan of Arc for a literal interpretation of their assignment, discovering what these great figures of history would make of modern-day San Dimas, California, by bringing them back to the present day with them.
That assignment question goes to the heart of what the film is about, and it’s why all of the film’s most memorable gags involve historical figures going to the mall and wasting time messing about with various distractions. Terry Camilleri gets the best of that because Napoleon Bonaparte spends the most time in 1988, trolling around between ice-cream parlours (“Ziggy Piggy! Ziggy Piggy! Ziggy Piggy!”) and water parks (called Waterloo, of course).
But as that question applies to Bill and Ted, the story harbours a healthy outlook on the relative importance of academic pursuits. The film’s centring of two Gen-X teenagers who are destined to be massively historically significant figures works because it’s unburdened by the cynicism of its generation. Winter and Reeves are not only enormously likeable together from the off, but also playing characters who are essentially good-natured. Unlike many of the now-revered figures they meet, they’re not hurting anyone either.
Barring a couple of choices that we covered in our Bogus Journey review (we’ll have to remember to go back and write that one after finishing this) the film has aged remarkably well because the past, present, and future is what Bill and Ted make it. It also lays down a formula for two most triumphant returns. With the exceptionally cool Carlin on hand to reassure us that everything will turn out alright, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is entirely self-assured in how thoughtfully constructed its ostensibly loose, episodic structure really is.