Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)

Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy and Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 30 min.

Release Date: February 17th, 1989 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Stephen Herek Actors: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin, Terry Camilleri, Dan Shor, Tony Steedman, Rod Loomis, Al Leong, Jane Wiedlin, Clifford David

 


 

“W

elcome to the future.” Rufus (George Carlin) explains that everything is fine in the year 2688, but it almost wasn’t. He has to travel back in time 700 years to straighten out a couple of essential players to correct the course of history. Unbelievably, those two are Ted (Keanu Reeves) and Bill (Alex Winter), two incredibly unintelligent, wannabe rock stars in San Dimas, California who don’t know how to play any instruments, don’t have a great music video, and don’t have Eddie Van Halen as a bandmate – who is essential to their eventual stardom. They have bigger problems to face in the nearer future, however, as they’re failing history class and must excel in the next day’s oral presentation or neither one will graduate. And Ted’s father is threatening to send him to a military school in Alaska. “We’re in danger of flunking most heinously tomorrow.”

Fortunately, Rufus arrives in 1988 just in time (in his telephone booth time machine) to guide the goofy twosome through an educational history lesson – a most excellent adventure. Beginning with a brief trip to Austria in 1805, when the French initiated their invasion, they proceed to collect up (or kidnap) major historical figures from various periods – including Napoleon (Terry Camilleri), Billy the Kid (Dan Shor), Socrates (Tony Steedman), Sigmund Freud (Rod Loomis), Beethoven (Clifford David), and more. “Want a Twinkie, Genghis Khan?”

“You medieval dickweed!” One would assume that this film is based on a “Saturday Night Live” skit, what with its remarkably idiosyncratic characters, the odd musical cues, the specific language used (“Excellent!”), and their various interests. But it’s actually an original screenplay, targeting a teen audience through two likable yet idiotic protagonists designed along the lines of Sean Penn’s Spicoli from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” What they lack in brains they make up for in enthusiasm.

It’s also amusing that, despite their mission to deceive and capture people, they’re never in any genuine danger. In fact, their antics are slapstick-filled and nonsensical, such as when they inexplicably don the armor of knights to infiltrate a castle (even though the suits of armor are already inside the castle and they’re spontaneously shown wearing the armor), and when Socrates manages to disguise himself as a medieval executioner to save the day, as if a physically adroit Robin Hood. Sensibility isn’t a priority with this plot and these characters. They also cram an unreasonable number of people into their tiny phone booth – prisoners who don’t seem all that concerned and who don’t attempt to escape, even when they’re put to work to finish Bill’s chores.

Unexpectedly, much of the ludicrousness works: the misadventures pose a decided cheeriness, the modern soundtrack complements the eccentricity, the leads’ unyielding positivity is inspiring, and the humor musters laughs. It’s incredibly bizarre yet consistently entertaining. A few of the one-liners age poorly (a series of jokes involving Bill’s stepmother [Amy Stock-Poynton], who is considerably younger than Bill’s father, are a prime example), but the silliness – culminating in the historical characters running amok in a mall and then being sprung from jail – is thoroughly dependable, borrowing from and expanding upon concepts seen in “Time Bandits” and “Back to the Future.” The concluding history report is a bit of a stretch – considering its polished choreography and teamwork, which couldn’t possibly be adequately planned beforehand – but as a lighthearted, comic fantasy (taking a few notes from “Weird Science”), the film is quite enjoyable.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10