Underappreciated ’80s: Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure
If you’ve been living in a cave since the late 1980s, let me tell you a little bit about a little movie that gets much too little respect: Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, which hit theaters 19 years ago this month:
Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves)—good-natured but underachieving high school seniors in San Dimas, California—will flunk out unless they get an A+ on their history report. Ted’s dad vows to send him to a military academy in Alaska if he fails.
This would be a most, most heinous turn of events for the future of mankind, as visitor-from-the-future Rufus (George Carlin) tells our heroes, because staying together after high school allows Bill and Ted’s nascent band (Wyld Stallyns) to get its legs and eventually bring world peace through its music.
Rufus gives the rapscallions a totally righteous time-traveling phone booth, enabling them to kidnap figures from history to use in their history report. Despite ample tomfoolery along the way—after all, the title does promise an excellent adventure—Bill and Ted secure their A+, guarantee the survival of Wyld Stallyns, and thus provide the foundation for humanity’s harmonious future.
Hey, it’s no crazier than Rocky beating the unbeatable Drago in Rocky IV—deal with it.
Bill and Ted earn the pedestal I place them on for several reasons:
Alex Winter. Most people know this movie as the first big-time vehicle for Keanu Reeves, but Alex Winter as “Bill S. Preston, Esquire” steals the show. It’s a toss up whether Winter shines more in this part or in his lesser but brilliant role as a teen vampire in The Lost Boys, but you can’t deny that the ‘90s would have been a better decade on the big screen if we’d have seen more of him.
Most Excellent Alex Winter Highlight: Bill saying to Billy the Kid: “Billy, you are dealing with the oddity of time travel with the greatest of ease.”
Diverse musical references. Few movies both project a blissful future based on the music of an Iron Maiden- and Van Halen-inspired garage band … AND sport cameos by such decidedly non-metal musicians as Clarence Clemons (The E Street Band), Fee Waybill (The Tubes), Martha Davis (The Motels), and sprite-like Jane Wiedlin (The Go-Gos)—who, it must be noted, plays a fetching Joan of Arc.
Most Excellent Musical Highlight: Bill and Ted confusing the iron maiden, medieval torture device, with Iron Maiden, heavy metal band.
Historic figures trashing a mall. Some praise the movie for its subtle but clever presentation of the contradictions inherent in time travel. I don’t disagree. But even better are the shenanigans that the confused Billy the Kid, Beethoven, Abraham Lincoln, Sigmund Freud, Joan of Arc, Genghis Khan, and Socrates cause when Bill and Ted lose them in San Dimas Mall.
Most Excellent Mall-Wrecking, Time-Transported Celebrity Highlight: Genghis Khan wreaking Mongol-rific havoc on a sporting goods store.
It’s about time for three-quel: Ever since one fun but strained sequel (Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey in 1991), rumors have swirled about a third installment in the series. And yet it never comes.
Bogus. Totally, totally bogus.