It seems more than a bit peculiar to review a 25th anniversary release of a film all about time travel, for after a quarter of a century later the film itself starts to become part of the history it seeks to explore. An idea made all-the-more striking when the then-current time period is as gaudy and alien as the late 1980s, a mysterious land of jarring colour combinations, questionable fashion choices and hair that defies all understanding and science. A backwards place where reverence is held only for heavy metal, water parks and that now-obsolete institution: the mall. Ladies and gentlemen, the world of ‘Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure’.
For the uninitiated, Bill S. Preston Esquire (Alex Winters) and Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan (Keanu Reeves) are a couple of hopeful-yet-terrible musicians who put so much faith in currently-two-man band, Wyld Stallyns *guitar solo*, that they are at risk of flunking out of high school and getting separated forever. If they fail their history presentation, it’ll be the end of Wyld Stallyns *guitar solo* as we know it. Enter magical future lord of exposition, Rufus (George Carlin), stage right with a time-travelling phone booth. Cue a hare-brained scheme to gather up famous historical people for the imminent history report to end all history reports, and scene.
Now if this hasn’t already been made clear by the idea of a sparkly George Carlin giving teenage Keanu Reeves a time-travelling phone booth, this is not one of those films you take too seriously. In fact, the film doesn’t take anything seriously; the gravity of almost every situation is defused by the overwhelming naïve optimism of the central two characters. No matter how heinous, non-bodacious and bogus things get, Winters’ and Reeves’ performances as our titular duo of surfer-talking, constantly-air-guitaring teenagers are just too damn likeable not to root for, Keanu even manages two whole emotions! That’s 100% more than his subsequent track record!
So you’ve got a strong core pairing and a goofy-yet-promising premise, but of course the film lets itself down in some places, possibly more noticeable now that we’re 25 years in the future and so cynical we put nails in our morning coffee just to feel feelings. Some scenes do drag; particularly ones featuring Napoleon trapped in the almost Kafka-esque hell that is hanging with children in a mall in the late 80s, as well as some of the more physical comedic moments just plain falling on their face, and not in the way you’d like them to. Oh, I should probably also mention, if you’re not a fan of 80s metal then you’re probably going to be jamming knitting needles into your legs in the vain attempt to drown out the constant guitar-heavy soundtrack with your equally-screechy wails.
Personally though? I think all this works into its favour. ‘Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ is one of those 80s-to-early-90s films that wears its decade on its sleeve, next to its heart and cuff-links. Whilst some of us may be deeply terrified to discover that 1989, which we swore was only yesterday, has turned out to be 25 years ago, the thing we should mainly be concerned about is how a film as honest, warm, and well written as this could ever get made again in this age of Michael “explosions-instead-of-emotions” Bay and Christopher “what-is-an-emotion-again-beep-boop-beep” Nolan. Well, one that isn’t full of Lego people at any rate.
I guess that most bottom of lines about this edition of ‘Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ is this: if you somehow haven’t seen it, this release will do just fine. It does wear its age like an old dress, however; one it refuses to take off no matter the weather, season, or amount of grime caked to it. This is part of its charm, but also the reason why not many people give it a phone-call these days. Which is shame, because deep down, it is a really nice dress.
Running Time: 90
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin
Director: Stephen Herek