Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is a recent addition to our collection, so we are reviewing it now. Sally and I were both fond of this film growing up, and wanted to see if it still held up. It is a very silly movie, but has an undeniable charm thanks to good performances from the two leads, Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter (whatever happened to him? Couldn’t Keanu throw him a bone with a speaking part in The Matrix or something?). There was also a lot more humour I understood this time around thanks to spending a lot of time in California lately, saying that the old west reminded them of Frontierland at Disneyland was one of my favourites.
Bill and Ted (Reeves and Winter) are two slacker high school students about to flunk out if they fail an upcoming history exam. If they do, Ted’s dad will send him to military school, splitting up this budding bromance once and for all. As it turns out, Bill and Ted are worshipped thousands of years in the future and people of the future can’t allow these two friends to be separated because Bill and Ted will then no longer have a positive effect on their future (it’s never really explained what Bill and Ted do, just that it’s awesome and likely involves rock music). A man called Rufus (George Carlin) is sent back in time to make sure they don’t fail history class. He provides them with a time travelling phone booth that they can use to research the past and ace their test. The boys embark on a journey through the old west where they meet Billy the Kid, ancient Rome with Socrates, Mongolia when Genghis Khan ruled, the French Revolution, Medieval England, and the US Civil War, amongst other time periods. On their journey they collect famous historical figures such as Napoleon, Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc and Sigmund Freud. With these historical icons in tow, they travel back to 1980s California with the knowledge required to smash their history presentation out of the park.
I need to start off by saying that this is a really dumb film. The plot is completely ridiculous, but you get over that very quickly because Bill and Ted are such likable characters. You want them to succeed in their journey because Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter play their roles so well. I enjoyed the scenes where they are traveling back in time, and their presentation during the film’s climax is also a highlight. It was quite interesting to see a teenager’s point of view on all these important historical eras. This film is not for everyone, but if you are able to suspend reality for 90 minutes, this film is well worth checking out. There are some genuinely laugh out loud moments here, and you might just learn a thing or two from this romp through history.
To think, when I first saw Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure I had no idea who George Carlin was. It’s not like he’s spouting off any of the infamous “seven words you can never say on television” here, but it is quite funny that my introduction to the comedian was in the most uncontroversial movie ever.
Onto the actual movie… I had my reservations about watching this again. I haven’t spent time with Ted “Theodore” Logan and Bill S. Preston, Esquire since the early 1990s. The odds of this movie still being funny or entertaining were low. So many of my childhood favorites fail to live up to my adult expectations. I still love Keanu Reeves after all these years, but could he alone carry this story?
Luckily he doesn’t have to. Bill & Ted’s is a perfect combination of a silly story, silly jokes, and silly performances. It’s just so delightfully dumb that it’s easy to suspend belief and just go with the story. The rock music of two high school students becomes the basis of future society– sure, why not? This entire utopian society depends on the two passing a history exam– I’ll buy it. They use a time machine to bring historical figures to San Dimas in order to pass said exam– yep, sounds about right. Mix this with the perfect casting of Reeves and Alex Winter and you get something surprisingly special.
What was most surprising about this movie is that it actually had some very clever points. Time travel is always tricky, but what Bill & Ted’s gets right (particularly, the boys using the time machine to hide things they will need later on) makes up for the fact that their phone booth time machine travels through both space and time (I prefer time machines that travel through time, but not space. See: Back to the Future.). Plus, who wouldn’t want to bring historical figures to present day just to get their opinion of things? How interesting would it be if we could just bring the Founding Fathers to modern America and ask them how badly we’re fucking the country up?
If you haven’t watched Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure in awhile I highly recommend giving it another go. Don’t set your expectations too high and you’ll enjoy the hell out of it. And as fun extra, you’ll be reminded of an important life lesson: “Be excellent to each other.”