Sunday, January 19, 2014

#1,252. Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)

Directed By: Stephen Herek

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin

Tag line: "History is about to be rewritten by two guys who can't spell..."

Trivia: This film's writers, Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson, make cameo appearances in the movie, playing waiters at the ice cream parlor

Let me begin by saying that I love Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Love it! The story of two dim-witted teens who travel through time “collecting” some of history’s notable personalities, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is, without a doubt, one of the most endearing teen comedies to emerge from the ‘80s.

Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted "Theodore" Logan (Keanu Reeves) aren’t exactly the best students at San Dimas High. In fact, they’re failing history, and according to their teacher, Mr. Ryan (Bernie Casey), if they don’t get an “A+” on their final presentation, they’re going to flunk out of school. 

Ted’s father (Hal Landon Jr.), a gung-ho policeman and strict disciplinarian, has already threatened to ship Ted off to an Alaskan military school if he doesn’t get good grades, meaning Bill and Ted’s dream of making it big as rock stars could be over before it begins.

Yet there’s more hanging in the balance than even Bill and Ted realize. 

In the future, their band, the Wyld Stallyons, will not only become the most popular duo in rock history, but will also produce music so beautiful that it brings an end to war and famine. Of course, none of this will happen if the two fail their final presentation. So to put them on the right path, a visitor from the 27th century named Rufus (George Carlin) goes back to 20th century San Dimas, bringing along a time machine (which looks exactly like a telephone booth) that will allow Bill and Ted to travel to the past, where they can witness first-hand a few of history’s most significant events. 

But instead of simply visiting the past, they decide to kidnap historical figures, including western outlaw Billy the Kid (Dan Shor), Greek philosopher Socrates (Tony Steedman), and Napoleon Bonaparte (Terry Camilleri), and bring them back to San Dimas to help present their report. 

The question is: can these two slackers pull it off in time?

One of the things I love about Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is it never takes itself seriously. In most movies dealing with time travel, filmmakers go to great lengths to lay out the “ground rules”, chief among them being the characters cannot interfere with the course of history, and should avoid any interactions that might alter the future. Unfortunately, no one told Bill and Ted this rule, so when they stop by the old west, the two immediately stroll into a bar and order a couple of beers (thrilled they can do so without the bartender asking to see their I.D.). They even agree to help Billy the Kid cheat at a card game. 

And if their sojourns to the past don’t disrupt the space-time continuum, it's at least safe to say the historical figures they bring back with them will be forever changed by the experience. When their report is finished and Bill and Ted return Beethoven (Clifford David) to the 18th century, will he be content composing music on an ordinary piano, or will he miss the state-of-the-art organ - complete with synthesizer - that he played during his visit to the San Dimas Mall? 

The best thing about Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is it never asks these questions. The past and the present collide head-on throughout the entire film, and to hell with the consequences!

Another great aspect of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure are Bill and Ted themselves. Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves are terrific as the eternally optimistic best friends, parading through time without a care in the world. Initially portrayed as a couple of lovable losers (in class, Bill describes Napoleon as a “dead French dude”), the duo eventually learn a lot more about history than they ever dreamed possible. 

It’s the near-perfect blend of character and story that makes Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure such an awesome film, and no matter how often I see it, it always brings a smile to my face.

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