Well, well, our first Origins post of 2020, and what better to see in this year of crazy than Bill & Ted Face the Music?
To quote Bill S. Preston, Esquire, and Ted ‘Theodore” Logan, “Excellent!”
Like most Gen-Xers, I have plenty of memories of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. I even had a Bill and Ted book cover on my sixth-grade science textbook that proclaimed the movie’s tagline: “History is about to be rewritten by two guys who can’t spell.”
That other movie, though…
First of all, here’s the trailer for the new installment. Even though I know a lot of you have probably seen it already, it’s an Origins post and the proprieties must be observed.
Errr, OK, this looks…interesting. Ted seems to be a Mr. T clone in one scene, and who knows why the guys go to prison, but on the bright side, at least they were able to find a totally retro phone booth in the twenty-first century. And it looks like the Grim Reaper is back for an encore. Even though my better judgement says this may be a pretty dumb movie, I’m still kind of excited about seeing Bill and Ted again. Even if it is via VOD. On the plus side, I won’t have to sneak any food in. *chuckles sheepishly*
Just kidding, guys. I always get popcorn. 😉
Anyway, I thought it would be fun to go back to the previous movies in the franchise, starting with, of course, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
San Dimas teenagers, Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) are not the sharpest tools in the shed. It’s the end of the school year, and they find out they’re flunking history. They either have to seriously deliver on their oral presentation, or they’re going to be in big trouble–Ted’s dad is threatening to send him to military school in Alaska. They won’t be able to start their band, the Wyld Stallyns.
So the guys try to buckle down and study. It’s not easy, because Bill’s stepmom, Missy (Amy Stoch) is a former high school student Bill has a crush on. She insists on talking like June Cleaver and Bill calling her “Mom.” The way Bill’s dad looks at her is seriously creepy.
Plus, Bill and Ted have a ton of catching up to do. Ted thinks Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife, among other anachronisms.
Unbeknownst to our heroes, help is on the way. While at the Circle K for a snack, a phone booth with an antenna on top plops down in the parking lot, and a guy named Rufus (George Carlin) emerges. He’s from the future, 2688 to be exact, and he’s there to help them with their history report. Their time machine is the phone booth. Things get even weirder when a second phone booth shows up bearing…Bill and Ted.
“Bill,” says Ted. “Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.”
After a few pleasantries, the other Bill and Ted are off again, but not before Ted #2 reminds Ted #1, “Don’t forget to wind your watch!”
The guys travel around to different time periods, picking up various historical figures. Some of them are easy to catch, like Joan of Arc (Jane Wiedlin) and Billy the Kid (Dan Shor). Napoleon (Terry Camilleri) is pure accident. Others, not so much. Ghengis Khan (Al Leong) has to be lured away with Twinkies. Abraham Lincoln (Robert V. Barron) gets bagged after the guys pretend to deliver a Candygram. They also meet two princesses in medieval England who are pretty intriguing. Unfortunately the (much older) men the princesses are promised to marry spit tacks at seeing our two heroes, and Bill and Ted almost lose their heads.
Once they’re back in San Dimas Bill and Ted take the group to the quintessential hangout of the 80s: The mall. And…each of them act true to form. Ghengis Khan goes to a sporting goods shop and starts smashing things. Joan of Arc takes over an aerobics class. Beethoven (Clifford David) jams at a music store and draws a huge crowd. Lincoln tries to get his picture taken only to get in a fight with the photographer. Socrates (Tony Steedman), Billy the Kid, and Sigmund Freud (Rod Loomis) try to pick up women. And what of Napoleon? He’s living it up at a waterslide park called Waterloo.
Everything hinges on getting the group to the big presentation at the school so they don’t fail history class. Can they do it? What if Ted forgets to wind his watch? And what if their couterie of historical figures hate San Dimas? The answers aren’t too hard to figure out, but it’s fun anyway.
Like the first film, Bogus starts in the future, 2691, where Bill and Ted are revered figures. There’s even a university founded in their honor, with a giant statue to them out front. The students all wear crazy outfits of neon and nineties-esque random shapes, not to mention freakishly large Ugg-like boots.
What’s there to be studied at a school like this is a mystery, but the history class, taught by Rufus, of course, is just getting into the latest installment of their guest speaker series (Thomas Edison, J.S. Bach, Jim Martin from Faith No More, and some twenty-third century singer named Ria Paschelle this time), when the scary-looking De Nomolos (played by the ever-stern Joss Ackland) drops in. Rufus used to be his student, but De Nomolos is now clearly into world domination.
De Nomolos has built two lifelike Bill and Ted robots, who he’s going to send back in time to kill the real Bill and Ted, alter history, and change the world forever. He doesn’t think civilization should be modeled on the actions of two dingbats. De Nomolos sends Evil Ted and Evil Bill off in Rufus’s phone booth, but Rufus ties a rope to a guitar, latches onto the phone booth, and hitches a ride.
Meanwhile, back in the present, Bill and Ted are plugging along with their band, but Wyld Stallyns just isn’t taking off the way they had hoped. At least the two princesses, Elizabeth (Annette Azcuy) and Joanna (Sarah Trigger) from the first movie are now members and things just might turn around if they can play on Battle of the Bands.
First of all, though, Bill and Ted propose to Elizabeth and Joanna. These guys are so hilariously dependent that being three or four feet away from each other is what they call “privacy.” The ladies don’t seem to mind, though, and they don’t care that their engagement rings are pink plastic with blue hearts.
Right after real Bill and Ted send the ladies off for the night, Evil Bill and Evil Ted show up, their phone booth touching down at a Circle K, natch. The first thing they do is call the real guys, pretending to be the princesses, and tell them it’s all off and they’re leaving Wyld Stallyns. Bill and Ted are baffled, sitting around watching Star Trek and wondering what they did wrong, when their evil counterparts are on their doorstep. Long story short, the Evils trick Bill and Ted into taking a ride into the desert, where they throw them off a cliff.
Naturally, Bill and Ted die, and naturally the Grim Reaper (William Sadler) shows up. Being Bill and Ted, our heroes try to outrun him. It doesn’t work, of course, and the Grim Reaper sends them to hell. After wandering around the halls of hell for a while, where they see Bill’s evil grandmother and an incensed drill sergeant who has it in for Ted, they meet up with the Grim Reaper, who makes a deal with them: If they beat him in a game, they can leave hell. Our heroes not only beat him at Battleship, Clue, Twister, Monopoly, and mechanical football, but the Grim Reaper now has to do their bidding.
The ending of the film is long and messy, involving a trip to heaven, a trip to Ace Hardware, two furry aliens who are both called Station, and more robots. Oh yeah, and there’s that Battle of the Bands thingie.
My son, being a teenager, loved both movies. I, on the other hand, had to stop myself from putting my head to my desk more times than I could count during Bogus Journey. Both movies are fun, don’t get me wrong, but despite some effective comedy with the Grim Reaper, Bogus Journey could also be called “Seven Levels of Stupid.” The one edge Bogus Journey has over Excellent Adventure is its relatively meatier, more complicated plot. The problem is there’s not enough real fun to balance out the stupid. It gets annoying.
What I would tell the unitiated is, “Skip the second movie, stick with the first one, and don’t take anything too seriously.” The movies are also pretty dated in that there’s some humor that might not play well today, but this is more of a thing in the second movie than in the first, and even then it’s not dominant.
I hope that Face the Music not only hearkens more to Excellent Adventure than Bogus Journey, but allows the characters to grow. They can still be Bill and Ted with the pseudo-surfer talk and dreams of rock stardom, but there’s got to be a valid reason why they’re both still slackers despite being over the hill. If not, the proceedings could get old real quick. It also needs to allow for the fact that Keanu Reeves is now a huge star, Alex Winter is less so, and neither one of them are exactly spring chickens anymore.
However, I remain optimistic. We badly need some stupid fun right now, and Bill and Ted more than fit the bill. Even if the movie is a turkey there should be something to enjoy in there, and that’s fine with me.
There’s nothing else to say but, “Be excellent to each other.”
And, “Party on, dudes!”
Coming up in September:
If anyone wants to be involved in this, please see Terence at A Shroud of Thoughts.
Saturday is when I’ll post my entry for the Ingrid Bergman Blogathon, so I hope you’ll check back. Thanks for reading, all, and stay safe…