The "Bill & Ted" Franchise Aug 14, 2020 11:48:34 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Aug 14, 2020 11:48:34 GMT -5
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)
Directed by: Stephen Herek
Directed by: Stephen Herek
Bill (Alex Winter, left) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) meet their future/past-selves in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.
It's been opined, cheekily or not, that nearly every subsequent role Keanu Reeves has gotten after the rousing success of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and its sequel is some variation of his character Ted Logan. It's not a far-fetched idea. Sure, roles like Speed and John Wick throw a monkey-wrench in that theory, but Reeves' laidback coolness has gotten him far over four decades and even further in the present. Reeves is now among the class of few celebrities that are meme-famous and loved simply for existing.
Watching a film like Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure after seeing Reeves in so many different projects over the last 20 years confirms that, if noting else, the man has range as a performer and there's a reason significant adulation is thrown his way. The film catapulted his notoriety and popularity amongst the masses in the late eighties, and created one of the most memorable buddy duos in an era where buddy comedies were all the rage (Beavis and Butt-head, Wayne and Garth, Pryor and Wilder, etc).
The central schtick of Bill and Ted's big-screen debut is that two ne'er-do-well teenagers (Alex Winter and Reeves, respectively) are on the verge of flunking their history class due largely in part to their own ineptitude but also due to their fixation on getting their rock band The Wyld Stallions off the ground. The dudes are hopeless to learn that not only are they almost certainly guaranteed to fail history, but Ted's father is already making plans to ship him off to military school. One evening stroll to Circle K turns into a life-changing encounter with the mysterious Rufus (George Carlin), a time-traveling liaison who appears in a mysterious phone-booth that acts as an unassuming time-portal. Rufus appears along with future versions of Bill and Ted that prove to the two dudes that time-traveling is possible. This motivates the two (from the past, that is) to travel back throughout history, snatch the likes of Napoleon, Genghis Kahn, Abraham Lincoln, and of course Socrates (So-crates) from their own timelines, and take them to their school in the present so they can hopefully pass their class.
The personalities Winter and Reeves create for their characters are your cut-and-paste primitive and primal nineties stereotypes. Bill is a curly-haired, bodacious dolt who carries the weight of the two in the planning department while Ted is quite easily surprised yet genial and good-natured as a whole (think a slightly more competent "Ed" from Ed, Edd n Eddy). You don't believe either one of these characters has a bad bone in their bodies despite both lacking significantly in the cognitive department. So much of Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon's script is predicated on the Valley slang and dude-isms the two use to communicate, and the juxtaposition of that with two characters doing the last thing you'd expect them to be doing (traveling through the bowels of time, changing history with every stop) is the kind of endearing amalgam that shows why this film has withstood the test of time, save for some kitschy special effects.
Even in my younger years, however, Bill and Ted were a little too cartoonish for me. I preferred the happy-go-lucky nature of Wayne and Garth in Wayne's World, especially seeing as the plot was more (not much) grounded in the real-world as opposed to introducing historical icons at every turn. Notwithstanding, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure features a handful of whip-smart and watchable set-pieces that keep the energy of the project high. The water-park sequence involving the stout Napoleon discovering a water-slide is made memorable thanks to great POV shots and swerving camera-angles that compliment an ensuing montage, and Genghis Khan destroying stores in a mall is the rare idea that sounds hair-brained on paper but makes for a delightfully absurd aside when carried out.
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure skates by largely on the charisma of its duo and its tactful handling of asinine elements that shouldn't work as well as they do. Perhaps it's because Matheson and Solomon don't bother much with the logic of the setup because, after all, there is none. This is why it's ultimately unfair to compare this series to Back to the Future. One franchise is keen on developing all the emotional heft, complex interworkings, multiverses, and character development associated with one of the most compelling science-fiction ideas we know. The other is simply in it for a good time, not a long time, and ultimately succeeds.
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin, Dan Shor, Terry Camilleri, and Terry Sheedman. Directed by: Stephen Herek.