Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Starring: Alex Winter, Keanu Reeves, George Carlin
Directed by Stephen Herek
I watched this movie for the first time in about five years the other night. It holds up surprisingly well. You’d think all that dude-speak would be a major crux, but it’s not. Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves split Spicoli down the middle and manage to make that patented Hollywood stoner stupidity more endearing than Santa Claus or Mary Lou Retton.
Of course, pot and/or any references to the holy green stuff are completely absent from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It seems like there wasn’t too much weed humor going on in the late eighties. Everybody was too busy doing coke, I guess. At any rate, the lack of overt drug yuks and gratuitous swearing makes this film seem like a fershluggin’ Disney comedy. Two American teenagers travel through time and steal history’s greatest minds to help them pass their final exam? Yeah, I could see a couple kids from High School Musical making the same flick today.
Maybe that’s why they threw in Amy Stock-Poynton as Bill’s hot step-mom Missy. Some of those scenes still make me a little uncomfortable, particularly the one where Mr. Preston throws our heroes out of Bill’s room so he can make the sign of the blue-breasted Nepalese tit willow with Missy. I hope they changed Bill’s sheets afterwards.
You know what else is weird in this movie? The part where Bernie Casey (as Bill and Ted’s history teacher) is asking the duo real softball questions in class the day before their report is due. Seriously, it’s the last ten minutes of class on the day before the final, and you’re asking questions like, “Who was Joan of Arc?” Is that how you get your jollies, Bernie Casey? By humiliating the two poorest students in class with questions you know they can’t answer correctly? Maybe you just don’t have your shit together as a teacher. Based on the other final reports shown in the movie, it doesn’t look like you taught those kids dick. Let them eat fast food? I know fourth graders more perceptive than that. I guess my point is fuck you, Bernie Casey.
I wonder why George Carlin agreed to do Bill & Ted. I mean, obviously it had a funny script and everything came together really well in the end, but there are no other “names” attached and the budget had to be kind of low (they filmed most of it in Arizona). Did Stephen Herek have a lot of heat on him after Critters? Was Carlin hurtin’ for money? If the late hippie comedian ever commented upon/talked at length about his participation in the Bill & Ted movies, someone please direct me to a link or something. I’m too lazy to go on a wild Internet goose chase myself.
I would like to take a moment now to remark upon how amazing the Circle K sequences are in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It sounds crazy, but you can see how Keanu Reeves built a career on his reactions to the arrival of Rufus and Future Bill & Ted. Never before has one shaggy-haired gas station loiterer’s disbelief over meeting his time-traveling alter ego been so palpable. Reeves completely steals those scenes from Alex Winter. That’s okay, though, because Winter is generally better at his craft and kind of acts circles around Keanu throughout the rest of the film.
It’s a little strange watching Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure in the post-Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey world. They went so balls-out on the 1993 sequel (evil Bill & Ted robots, d.i.y. Bill & Ted robots made by non-evil Bill & Ted, the Grim Reaper, Station, Pam Grier, the guy from Faith No More, Primus) that the predecessor seems tame by comparison. The original does has enough clever writing and wacky gags to keep it from falling into the same cinematic grave as Rock n’ Roll High School Forever or any of the Meatballs movies, though. It’s also got Abraham Lincoln advising an auditorium of high school kids to “party on.” That’s worth at least three Oscars in my book.
Final Score: Three and a half air guitars supplemented by real guitar playing (out of four).