A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

September 2, 2010

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

For Keanu Reeves’ birthday we embark upon an excellent adventure today. Because for all his accomplishments and success the poor dude will never be anybody but Ted “Theodore” Logan in my mind.

When this movie first came out I didn’t give it a chance. I was (and am) a raving Doctor Who fan and the idea that an American comedy was based on the notion of people travelling through time in a phone booth seemed insulting and derivative. As a result I didn’t see this in its original theatrical run. Eventually, however, I did see it on VHS and of course I was charmed and thrilled by the movie’s peculiar wit.

The plot is fairly simple. A traveller from a future where everything is pleasant and wonderful comes to 1988 to help a pair of dufuses pass their final oral report in history class. If Bill and Ted don’t get an A on their report then they’ll flunk out of school, and Ted’s father will send him to a military school in Alaska. Which means that they’ll never form the influential super-group Wyld Stallyns. Which in turn means that the idyllic future of peace and harmony will never come to be. So right from the start of the movie the stakes are made clear: the fate of all civilization relies on these two idiots doing a stellar job on their history report.

The means that Rufus, the traveller from the future, uses to help the two out is the aforementioned time-traveling phone booth. Bill and Ted use the phone booth to abduct figures from history to research what they would think of modern day San Dimas California. In what might be a nod to Time Bandits their first stop is with Napoleon (abducted from a bunch of footage from the 1956 Audry Hepbern version War and Peace.) They also kidnap Billy the Kid, Joan of Arc, Sigmund Freud, Socrates, Gengis Kahn, Ludwig Beethoven, and Abraham Lincoln. How they all fit inside the phone booth is never really explained.

You know, this movie is far more entertaining than it has any right to be. It’s stupid and crazy, but it’s just so much fun. Seeing all the transplanted historical figures wreaking havoc in a mall, or watching that climactic history report – these are bits of pure escapist goofyness. The whole movie is fairly tongue in cheek, which is helped by George Carlin’s deadpan performance as Rufus. Carlin does a great job of being both reverential and slightly dismissive of the boys’ antics. There’s one particular eye-roll he does when Bill and Ted meet each-other outside the Circle K which captures his charm so perfectly. He needs these boys to succeed for the sake of his entire world, but he also seems to understand what idiots they are.

As I mentioned before Keanu Reeves has never, in my mind at least, stepped out of the shadow of this first performance. He and Alex Winter are pretty much playing Sean Penn’s character Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. They’re wasted empty-headed dudes who just want to form their band (even though they can’t play instruments and don’t have a righteous music video.) It doesn’t help that Keanu seems to have made “Woah!” his action catch phrase – in the vein of Schwarzenegger’s “I’ll be back.”

I will say that I think the writing for this movie is pretty clever. I particularly enjoy the closed-loop time travel portrayed. It’s one of my favorite devices when time travel causes no paradoxes because it’s already going to have happened the way it does. Such as, in this movie, the way that Ted’s father spends so much time searching for his missing keys because, as it turns out, Ted is going to have stolen them two days ago at the end of the movie. The scene where Bill and Ted meet themselves is another favorite – since we get to see it twice from different perspectives, even though it’s the same scene both times. “Sixty-nine, dudes!”

This is a most excellent movie, and one I always enjoy watching again. Furthermore, I wholeheartedly support the philosophy at it’s core: “Be excellent to each-other, and… party on, dudes!”

September 2, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,


  1. Big ups for the Doctor Who reference! I thought the same thing when I saw the movie the first time. And I completely agree that it’s “more entertaining than it has any right to be”. Even today, I can still watch it and enjoy it in a totally non condescending way.

    Comment by Trisha | September 3, 2010 | Reply

    • Like I said – I’m a Doctor Who fan. Have been since I first started watching it in the early eighties. I likes me some time travel in my sci-fi.

      Comment by tanatoes | September 3, 2010 | Reply

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