Never before has a more lunkheaded movie been made about the pursuit of knowledge. Here’s the strange thing: Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure wears its stupidity with pride, like one of those trucker hats with built-in beer bongs. That means a person in my position can either spend 1000 words picking nits about two airheads traveling through time in a phone booth, or simply open up the bongs and let cold pilsner flow into my body. I chose the latter, and that, my most excellent friends, has made all the difference.
The, um, “plot” of this movie centers on the aforementioned doofuses: “Ted” Theodore Logan (Keanu Reeves) and Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter). They’re a couple of slacker metalheads, presently coasting through their senior year at San Dimas High School. Bill and Ted dream of fronting their very own rock band, Wyld Stallyns, but they lack the skill and initiative to make it a reality. One day, the boys goof around in history class, until their teacher drops a most heinous buzz-kill: They can either ace their big project, or flunk out of school.
Crestfallen, Bill and Ted don’t even know where to start. They mope their way home, where Ted’s father (Hal Landon Jr.) informs him that failing means Alaskan military school. Just when all hope seems lost, a magic phone booth appears out of nowhere, and a mysterious traveler exits. Rufus (George Carlin) claims to be from the year 2688. In his utopian future, war and famine have been eradicated, and it’s all thanks to the bodacious jams of Wyld Stallions. If Bill and Ted get separated, if the music never happens, then this idyllic world will be lost. With that, Rufus hands over his time machine to help with their history project. They can dial any number and go to any time and place.
Bill and Ted resolve to bring back a few historical figures. They visit Europe, circa 1805. A blustery, diminutive Napoleon Bonaparte (Terry Camilleri) leads an invasion of Austria. The boys whisk him back to the 1980s, where he can gobble down ice cream and unleash torrents of profanity at the bowling alley. After that, the Wyld Stallyns venture back for Billy the Kid (Dan Shor), Socrates–or…So-CRATES (Tony Steedman), Sigmund Freud (Rod Loomis), Joan of Ark (Jane Wiedlin), and several others. Naturally, the gang gets into a series of sitcom-style shenanigans that will stand in the way Bill and Ted’s most excellent presentation.
If you’ve never seen this movie, Excellent Adventure is absolutely as idiotic as it sounds. Maybe even more so. But that’s also part of its dunder-headed charm. Yes, Bill and Ted are blathering morons, but they’re also guileless and good-hearted. Reeves and Winter project such likability, it’s hard not to root for them as they blunder slack-jawed through life. Writers Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson manage to get laughs from Bill and Ted in a way that never feels mean-spirited. The humor here is gentle, and that makes all the difference in the world.
Is there a message embedded in all this silliness? Hell, I don’t know. Maybe learning about history is fundamental if we wanna change the world, dude. Or, like…few things have the power to unite us all like a totally bitchin’ guitar solo. Actually, I would say there is some wisdom embedded within Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure: This film became a surprise hit and spawned an entire franchise, in large part due to its refusal to take anything too seriously. Adventure laughs at itself, and invites us to laugh along with it. If we could learn to do a little more of that, maybe it could help us be excellent to each other.
90 min. PG-13. Hulu.