Friday, May 14, 2010

Be excellent to each other!

After another long and grueling semester I hope to rediscover my inner-bohemian (not that he's ever that far gone) and make yet another attempt to write on this little blog of ours more regularly. It really is a joy to write about films, the most magical and mysterious of art forms.

That being said, I would like to discuss a film that is neither magical nor mysterious but is a whole lot of stupid fun. The film in question is the late 80's cult-classic Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, directed by Stephen Herek.

Bill and Ted giving a traditional 80's salute

Even though Herek would go on to direct such masterpieces as The Mighty Ducks, The Three Musketeers and Rock Star Bill and Ted arguably remains his greatest cinematic achievement. The story is total tripped-out nonsense (written by Ed Solomon who would go on to write Men in Black) about two California stoner dudes named William S. Preston (esquire) and Ted Thedore Logan who are failing their history class. Ted (played by the thespian's thespian, Keanu Reeves) faces being sent to military school by his hard-ass fascist father which means Bill and Ted' band-in-the-making The Wild Stalyns would never come to fruition. Unbeknownst to Bill and Ted their music is destined to influence humanity on a cosmic level and their philosophy ("Be excellent to each other!") will bring about world peace, put an end to hunger and clean up pollution. We see glimpses of this utopian future in a few scenes and frankly it doesn't look all that great. Bizarre, cult-type people sit around in dark catacombs that look like the setting of a Samuel Beckett play and mimic Bill and Ted's air-guitar playing. Clarence Clemons is apparently some kind of spiritual leader (yes, that Clarence Clemons) and he sends George Carlin (why the hell not?) back through time in a time-traveling phone booth to make sure that Bill and Ted stay together(!).

The future's spiritual leader and an unknown croney

The most efficient way to do this, apparently, is to give them the keys to the phone booth, enabling them to travel through time and pick up various historical figures that can then help them write their history report.

If you absolutely have to ask: no I didn't get paid in cash for doing this film.

The film has no right to work, of course, but it does, mainly because of the good-natured rapport between Alex Winters (Bill) and Keanu Reeves. Reeves is especially good as Ted, adding hilarious little adlibs and quirks to the standard stoner-dude stereotype. Both of them are essentially riffing on Sean Penn's Jeff Spiccoli character from Fast Times at Ridgemont High but they do it with such honesty and zest that it's almost impossible not to be caught up in the vibe of the film. Bill and Ted were probably a big influence on the Wayne's World films and it works in many of the same ways. Additional fun is had from the various historical figures Bill and Ted pick up, among which are Billy the Kid, Joan of Arc, Sigmund Freud (Ziggy) and Genghis Khan. Socrates ("So-Crates") steals the show, though, as he should, stumbling his way through modern California with a bemused smile on his face. Napoleon has a good time too, putting away an entire Neopolitan sundae at Ziggy Piggy's and having a ball at the local water park.

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure isn't a great film by any means but it has withstood the test of time surprisingly well. A litmus test for this kind of flick is how enjoyable it is when one is relatively sober and I must say it goes down very smooth with only a beer or two, which is more than one can say of almost any post-90's stoner comedy. The main difference between Bill and Ted (and for that matter, Wayne and Garth) and the later stoner buddies (Harold and Kumar, The Kootch and American Pie Guy, etc.) is that Bill and Ted seem genuinely likable (albeit extremely stupid) and decent human beings. There's isn't a mean or cynical note struck in the entire film, which is really a welcome change from most of the dripping-in-sarcasm comedy one sees today (were the 80's really such simpler, sweeter times?).

I will now leave you on a completely different note, namely that off a modern music-video masterpiece inspired by Stephen Herek's Disney extravaganza The Three Musketeers. Enjoy, dear friends, and be excellent to each other.

1 comment:

R Logan L said...

I was also a bit surprised at how well it stood up. It is like some kind of cinematic perfect storm - at least in the sense of all those seemingly horrible elements coming together to make an entertaining movie. And it's not entertaining in the so-bad-it's-good way. It's funny in each way they intend it to be. More or less.