Like the first movie, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey is not so much about the laughs as it is about creative new ideas and joyfully uncaring liberties with the space/time continuum. The narrative plays so hard and so fast with the rules and expectations of time travel that for most of this film’s duration, both Bill and Ted have no idea what’s going on.
That’s okay though, because neither do we. We sit for a movie like this not expecting to understand the plot fully. We sit because we want to be entertained by two young dudes who do a very good job of entertaining themselves.
Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) are back, and they’re still a couple of musicians who, when told that their guitar skills are appalling, have hearts good enough to take it as a compliment. Their success from the first movie has also catapulted them to legendary stardom. There’s a university named for them. “Be excellent to everyone” is its motto. The movie begins far in the future. An evil warlord named Chuck De Nomolos (Joss Ackland) creates a couple of robotic Bill and Teds in order to send them back in time to when the real Bill and Ted are still alive. He wants them dead so that the San Dimas he controls will be free of their moronic music. Yes, it’s this plot that carries the rest of the movie. Thin doesn’t even begin to cover it.
But there is a section in the middle of Bogus Journey that throws the plot out the window and welcomes in invention and innovation. Bill and Ted encounter the Grim Reaper — played superbly by William Sadler — after being thrown off a cliff. The Reaper is dressed like Death from Ingmar Bergman’s famous The Seventh Seal, and in that movie Death played a game of chess with a knight for the knight’s soul. Here, the Reaper plays for Bill and Ted’s souls, but not with chess. The movie has some funny moments. This whole sequence contains the funniest. Both Winter and Reeves display a penchant for comedic timing, and Sadler’s accented Reaper carries the burden of ferrying the dead with a chip on his shoulder. He has an outburst after losing at tabletop soccer that had me laughing like a crazed hyena.
The stipulation is that if the Reaper loses, he has to guarantee Bill and Ted’s freedom and follow them around like a scythe-wielding servant. He indeed loses, and his adventures with the duo pepper the film with pockets of really funny moments.
But Bogus Journey’s real triumph is not the comedy or the plot; it’s director Pete Hewitt’s boldness to constantly explore and reinvent. The movie’s design takes precedence over the humour. There’s a sequence in Hell that’s almost surreal in nature, and even if you hate it for leading you off the path, you have to admire it for being so visually attractive. And then it segues into a scene in Heaven, which itself is designed with some thought and taste. The movie might be slow on the pick up, but once it kicks into gear all its cogs spin with efficiency.
Interestingly, the only cogs that don’t spin are the ones in Bill and Ted’s heads. For reasons I can’t explain, I didn’t find them to be as endearing as I did in the first movie. I suspect their personas are good for one outing and then they lose steam for the second. In this way they’re kind of like Jack Sparrow. Jack made himself into an icon with the first Pirates movie, but by the time we saw him again he had given us nothing new to fall in love with. I think it’s the same here. There are only so many air guitar handshakes someone can take.
Best Moment | Any scene involving the Grim Reaper. Bill and Ted’s showdown with him has to be the best though.
Worst Moment | Nope.