1 Hr., 29 Mins.
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure June 3, 2019
n the smart-dumb comedy Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989), one’s wildest dreams can come true and then some. In the film, the main characters, respectively played by doped-down Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, have two big shared ambitions in life. One is making it as a two-member, Van Halen-style rock band called Wyld Stallyns. Nevermind that neither knows how to play an instrument. The other is passing an
upcoming oral history exam their no-nonsense teacher (Bernie Casey) already has them slated to flunk. Yet in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Wyld Stallyns will not only make it — it will also change the course of humanity for the better. Bill and Ted will not just pass the history exam — they will also get the best grade in the class, hands down. They find this out before Wyld Stallyns has even written its first song, and before its members have begun cramming.
The purveyor of this unfathomably good news is a man from the future. He’s a cyberpunk-dressed, uber-kempt supreme being named Rufus (George Carlin), who at one point in the movie crash-lands in a time machine disguised as a telephone booth in front of the nearby Circle K Bill and Ted frequent. To pass the test, Rufus, accompanied by future versions of Bill and Ted, claims that the present-day versions need to use the machine to travel through history to pick up and then bring epochal figures to the fateful history exam as decoration. (Among them Napoleon Bonaparte, Genghis Khan, and others.)
It is of utmost importance that Bill and Ted do exactly as their down-the-road selves and Rufus say. It is important because Ted’s father, an austere, squinty-
eyed cop named Jonathan (Hal Landon, Jr.), will send his son to military school if he fails the history test. It is also important because the globe will someday function as a perfect utopia because of the music of Wyld Stallyns. Everything, then, rests on this exam.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is, in a way, the cinematic equivalent of a tightrope walk where the line’s tethered to a couple of skyscrapers. One clumsy step could result in a tragic plummet. The comedy in the feature must be dumb but carefully, knowingly so; the storyline must be harebrained but not convolutedly. Crack a joke that doesn’t appear to be in on the purposely silly conceit and the movie suddenly might appear to not be as subversively smart as originally hinted at; uncover a development in the storyline that rings as too absurd and the whole thing might seem as if it was trying too hard to get a giggle out of our throats.
Aside from one dated use of a homophobic slur, almost everything about this comic balancing act works, from Reeves’ and Winter’s pitch-perfectly eye-glazed performances to the heedless yet sharp surreality of Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon’s screenplay. You half-expect it all to come with a smidge of condescension — the main characters perennially the butt of the joke, the gags eventually knotting together to make something sort of monotonous. But all falls under the category of attractively scatty fun — the type of farce that unexpectedly undercuts the unvaried and the one-note. Most excellent. B+