Given that its two main characters are dumber than a couple of rotten apples, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is a surprisingly intelligent movie. It deals with time travel as adeptly as Donnie Darko, and has a message that’s as powerful as Groundhog Day’s. No, it has nothing to do with living the same day over and over again until you learn how to treat a woman correctly; it has to do with proving to the older generation that not everything revolves around academics. And yes, it’s also very enjoyable.
I shouldn’t have to tell you that the two main characters are Bill and Ted, the kings of slackers. Bill is played by Alex Winter, the blonde with curly hair and a t-shirt short enough to show off his midriff. Ted is played by Keanu Reeves, in what I’m concluding is his most expressive role to date (not that I’ve seen all of his movies). He’s dressed like a fashionista’s nightmare; grungy t-shirt, vest, rolled-up shorts that are still too long, high-cut Converse shoes, and an orange jumper tied around his waist. Both dudes are the best of friends, and they enjoy their school classes even though they have no idea what’s going on. They’re always happy, and they want to start a band together, called The Wyld Stallyns (how lovely). They also possess quite the colourful vocabulary, with words like “awesome!”, “excellent!”, “bogus…”, “no way!”, and “whoaaa…” thrown around like ping pong balls.
At the beginning of the movie, the two are filming themselves rocking out in Ted’s garage when they realise they need to film a music video to promote themselves, but can’t without Eddie Van Halen in their band. Ted argues that in order to attract Van Halen, they need a rockin’ video, and Bill argues that in order to make a rockin’ video, they need Van Halen. You can imagine how the conversation goes. But this scene also tells us something else: That Bill and Ted are really lovable dudes.
They are so oblivious to everything around them that in a very odd way, we can’t fault them. They earn our support and our sympathy without having to do anything at all. They appear on screen, and we like them. Not very many characters have been able to do this. My guess is that they personify wholesome goodness, with a single target in mind, and because their consciences are pure, they don’t come off as trying to be likable. They just are.
Anyway, they have a history report to submit, and because they’ve failed everything else, their teacher — the kind man that he is — is willing to pass them if they score an A. Oh no. What are they going to do? Nothing, apparently, because their answer falls right into their laps, in the form of Rufus (George Carlin), a suave future dude from the 27th century, who has travelled back in time to make sure that they pass. He comes in a smoking phone booth that can travel through time along enlarged cables. Bill and Ted use this booth to pick up key people from Earth’s past so that they can present them to the cohort as a form of show and tell. Among the abducted are Bob Genghis Khan, So-crates Johnson, Dave Beeth Oven, Dennis Frood, and Abraham Lincoln.
They are pulled out of their centuries and forced to adjust to 20th century life. “Forced” might be a stretch, though; they take to their new environment with much excitement and interest. Napoleon (Terry Camilleri), in particular, learns the joy of ice cream and water slides, and uses his military skill to push his way past the children waiting in line. But he, like the rest, are played like mannequins from the past. They have no depth, nor are they well-structured. The movie exploits their most famous traits (psychotherapy with Freud, violence with Khan, prayer with Joan Of Arc) and uses them for comedic effect.
Its genius lies, instead, in the time traveling. Bill and Ted encounter past versions of themselves, equally daft, but with knowledge that can be beneficial for the both of them. They exist in a cycle, leaving behind clues and breadcrumbs for the next round. The way these clues are left behind is not only smart, but also logical, in a very illogical way. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve seen the movie. Things that happen in the past directly affect what happens in the future, and you can’t have a future without a past. I’d love to know what Bill and Ted think about this.
Best Moment | I like the way Bill finds the cell keys behind the police station sign board.
Worst Moment | Hmmmm. Nope, can’t think of one right now. Well, actually, the two dudes and the girl floating about in that futuristic chamber look pretty silly.