Saturday, December 10, 2011

Stubs - Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure

BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE (1989) Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin. Directed by Stephen Herek. Written by Chris Matherson & Ed Solomon. Produced by Scott Kroof, Michael S. Murphey, Joel Sosson. Music by David Newman. Run Time: 90 minutes. Color. U.S., Science Fiction, Comedy.

If you took TIME TUNNEL, a TV series from the 1960’s about two time-traveling scientists and mixed it with 
WAYNE’S WORLD, you would have BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE. Keanu Reeves (Ted) and Alex Winter (Bill) are two want to be rock stars who are on the verge of failing their History class and therefore flunking out of school. They’ve already been told they’d have to get an A+ the next day on their oral presentation to avoid failing. It should come as no surprise that they haven’t even started it.

If they fail, Ted will be sent away to an Alaskan military academy, thus breaking up their would-be rock group before The Wyld Stallyns even learned to play their instruments. And if that happens, the world as it is known in 2689 would cease to be. And the San Dimas, California of the future is apparently quite a great place to live. In order to literally save their world, those in charge send Rufus (George Carlin) back in time to assist. Rufus brings with him a time-traveling telephone booth. With Rufus’ assistance, the boys grab all the people they need to do an oral presentation on the next day.

The cast is pretty good. I know I’ve already commented that Keanu Reeves acting skills are about as deep as a piece of paper, but in this case, he has a real good goofy appeal. The same persona he would show with a little more depth that same year in PARENTHOOD. Its part stoner and part surfer dude. Alex Winter’s Bill is not all that much different, but this is more a case of Dumb and Dumb than DUMB AND DUMBER. Ted and Bill are equal partners and each knows as little as the other one does.

George Carlin, for third billing, is really not seen all that much, though he does deliver a big slice of exposition pie that is required for this film to make any sort of sense. The apparently talentless boys have no way of knowing that their songs are the cure for all that is wrong with the world and that in future their lyrics would be treated like Bible verses. Rufus is there to tell them all that, so they will cooperate with his efforts to save them.

The rest of the cast is mostly made up of one-dimensional versions of famous people from history as Bill and Ted travel through time to grab them. The caricatures are somewhat like when someone is adlibbing a real-life character plays up the best-known thing they do, whether it is an attitude or an accent. That’s not to say the film doesn’t have fun with its premise. But it is a little surprising that all of these historical figures get into the groove so easily and no one really seems to object to being kidnapped by strangers from the future. I remember hearing in an old Time-Life commercial that Billy the Kid (Dan Shor) once shot a man just for snoring. But in BILL & TED, he’s game for being stuffed into a phone booth. The same is true for Abraham Lincoln (Robert V. Barron), Joan of Arc (Jane Wiedlin), Socrates (Tony Steedman), Freud (Rod Loomis), Ludwig Beethoven (Clifford David), Napoleon (Terry Camilleri) and Genghis Khan (Al Leong), But reality is not what this cult film is about.

As much fun as the film is to watch, it is surprisingly dated. When is the last time you’ve ever seen a telephone booth? Not only is the phone booth a nod to the TARDIS in Dr. Who, but it also shares it’s bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside quality, as it can hold up to nine adults. And the special effects, while suitable for the film, are probably something that could now be done on a personal computer with some software.

But the film is a fun view and any history that might be learned along the way (and there really isn’t very much) does not get in the way.

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