Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure - 1989

"Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" - 1989
Dir. by Stephen Herek - 1 hr. 30 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

Your mileage might vary wildly on this one, but I think that "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" is one of the best comedies of its era.  Part of that might because the timing was right for me, but I've found this film to be endlessly re-watchable (and laugh-out-loud funny every time).  There's a high probability that something contained within is going to trip up one of your pet peeves, but it would be a good idea to take Bill S. Preston, Esquire, and Ted "Theodore" Logan's advice: be excellent to one another, and party on, dude.

Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) are a pair of dim-witted, yet good-natured high school seniors from San Dimas, California who aren't even good at the things that they're supposed to be good at.  They're fully committed to turning Wyld Stallyns into a legendary band, but their practices are derailed by a debate over whether they need to make an awesome video first, which will then lure Eddie Van Halen into teaching them how to play guitar, or if they need to get Eddie Van Halen to teach them to play guitar, which will then result in a triumphant video. Bill and Ted are also, barring a miracle, about to flunk out of school, which means that Ted will be sent to a military academy, and Wyld Stallyns will come to an end.  In what has to be on the shortest list of greatest highdeas of all-time, Rufus (George Carlin) is sent back from the future with a time-travelling phone booth, which Bill and Ted are to use to collect historical figures, who will be used to deliver a history report that will save their educations (as well as the world, since Wyld Stallyns music is supposed to be a catalyst for achieving world peace).

Bill and Ted aren't the first pair of perma-stoned dimwits to show up in cinema (and they never actually address or use drugs of any kind), but they perfectly embody falling into success.  They go with the flow, and  both Reeves and Winter had to spend time in their careers living down these characters; an indication that they both really nailed the parts.  The characters kind of know what to do, do it not particularly well, and still end up bumbling into a better spot by the time things have wrapped up.  The fact that they're both so inept and so free of malice makes it a lot easier to root for them along the way.

But just because the main characters (and the setting itself, San Dimas) are kind of dopey and unaware of their surroundings, that doesn't mean that this is a dumb movie.  A constant refrain of elders is complaining about where kids get their information from.  But instead of viewing that as a bad thing, this film assumes that there really are people who think that Julius Caesar is the "salad dressing dude," and drops some legit historical figures in a decidedly not-reverent setting.  Each of the historical figures stays true at least to what you might think of them: Napolean is a dick, Socrates is eager to learn, Abraham Lincoln won't tell a lie, even when nobody believes him.  And if you dropped all of these people in a mall, why wouldn't Joan of Arc end up commandeering an aerobics class?  Why wouldn't Genghis Khan find a sporting good store, and arm himself a little better?  All of this might not add up to a doctorate thesis, but someone knew enough to pick entertaining characters, throw them together, and keep them straight.

One more thing about the... uh... demeanor of Bill and Ted.  This film was made at a particular time and place, when Nancy Reagan was shouting "just say no" from the hilltops.  So, while Spicoli from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" had no problem being very clear about his medicinal preferences a few years prior, Bill and Ted borrow the behavior and avoid addressing the issues.  You can see the same sort of phenomenon from the "Wayne's World" movies, too.  Fast-forward a few years, and you get more transparency on this issue as well.  In this instance though, I don't mind it.  There's one simple reason: "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" is a very tight, tightly-paced film.  If you have seen films like the "Harold and Kumar" series, the drug scenes can derail things.  They're used almost like a love scene would be used in a drama film, and there's no time for that in "Bill & Ted."  Also, often times, when portraying somewhat aimless characters, there's a tendency to let the plot drift as well, which absolutely doesn't happen here.  Bill and Ted have a goal, they have steps to take to achieve that goal, do so, someone's funny in every scene, and then the film is over.  Even the love story is another function of the main idea behind the film, that of the time-travelling phone booth.

For me, "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" is a superficially dopey, clever, tight comedy.  It doesn't aim for darkness (like "Heathers," a much darker then-contemporary high-school comedy), but jabs are thrown (like with the jock who didn't put much of a report together, finishes with "San Dimas High School football rules," and gets a standing ovation for it).  So many of the plot twists are absurd, so a viewer either has to accept that or move on to another film.  But there's a self-awareness to the absurdity, a kind of wink to the audience that they're all in on the joke together.  It adds up to a brisk, funny film that I've watched probably dozens of times (I wore out two admittedly cheaply-produced VHS tapes of this film), and which never gets old.

4.5 / 5 - DVD

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