February 17, 2014 by billysparrow
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Released: February 17, 1989
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin
The odds were decidedly against “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” becoming even a minor hit. First of all, it could be argued that, at the time of its release, Go-Gos bassist Jane Wiedlin was the second most recognizable name in the cast, behind George Carlin and maybe just above Keanu Reeves. Second, regarding that time of release, the movie sat around for a year after being made because its distribution company, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, went bankrupt, thus almost forcing “B&TEA” to go straight to HBO. (This information is gleaned from Luke Ford’s “The Producers: Profiles in Frustration,” which also features the tidbit–which I picked up via IMDB–from producer Scott Kroopf that when it came to “B&TEA,” Dino De Laurentiis “had no idea what it was about. He didn’t understand what dudes were until someone explained to him that ‘dudes’ meant guys who had big dicks. Then he said, ‘Oh, great, now I get it.'”)
But “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” did eventually get its release, became a modest success in the theaters, and then gradually grew into something of a cultural phenomenon that spawned a sequel (“Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey” which I believe I fell asleep while watching), a cartoon, a live-action show, and a video game, the last of which led to a “Nintendo Power” reader winning one of the phone booths from the movie and having his dad somehow fit it into their single-wide trailer (see what seems to be a legit Reddit discussion with the young chap as an adult).
So, it wound up turning out pretty well for a movie about two dumb dudes who travel back in time via a phone booth. But is the movie any good 25 years later? Boy, am I glad you asked, because I was just about to start writing down my thoughts on that exact subject. Pretty excellent timing.
Your enjoyment of “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” will largely depend on your appreciation of stupidity. If you prefer your films to have carefully interwoven subplots, incisive wit, and tight, sharp jokes, this might not be the one for you. If, however, you are willing to sit back for 90 minutes and just let the occasional laughs come to you, you’ll be fine. Guess which side of the spectrum the guy who loves the majority of the “Police Academy” films falls?
In case you have forgotten the intricate plot of the film, Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan III (Keanu Reeves) go back in time via a phone booth loaned to them by Rufus (George Carlin), a messenger from the year 2688 sent by the Three Most Important People in the World (one of whom I always knew was Clarence Clemons, but I didn’t know until now that the other two were Fee Waybill from The Tubes and Martha Davis from The Motels), so they can retrieve historical figures for their final History project, which they must ace to avoid failing the class and to prevent Ted from being shipped to a military school in Alaska. Their final assignment is to give an oral presentation in the high school auditorium about how historical figures would react to San Dimas, California, in 1988 (or, originally, 1987, until the movie got pushed back). This, by the way, is an amazingly dumb final project. What kind of education are they providing in San Dimas when this is what the teacher comes up with for the grade that decides whether you pass or fail? How about a test that actually gauges your knowledge of what you learned instead of a goofy speech that requires you know a minimal amount of information about a select few historical figures? I mean, come on.
Sorry about that. See what happens when you try to think too hard about “B&TEA”? It’s best to just let it flow over you. For instance, just enjoy the dumb laugh that will come out of your mouth when you see the way in which Bill and Ted lure Genghis Khan into their phone booth.
And appreciate the light chuckle you’ll elicit when noted philosopher Socrates quotes the beginning of the the “Days of Our Lives” theme, after Ted dazzles him with a line from a Kansas song.
While you’ll get a few light laughs from most of the historical figures and a couple of chuckles from Bill and Ted, I think we can all agree that the true star of “B&TEA” is Terry Camilleri, who plays Napoleon. Granted, because Napoleon is left with Ted’s brother Deacon while Bill and Ted go off in the phone booth to fetch the others, he has longer scenes, but Camilleri hits every one out of the park. He is a true unsung hero of 1980s cinema. I’m pretty sure I would watch a movie just of him as Napoleon.
Here he is enjoying himself at a waterpark named–wait for it–Waterloo.
And, of course, as an avid bowling fan, what could be better than seeing the Little General eschewing lane etiquette and then cursing when he fails miserably?
But, wait, there’s more, and it hearkens back to my absolute favorite restaurant when I was a kid. On the first floor of the Sears wing in the Staten Island Mall was a place called Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour. I cannot even write the name without thinking about the Clucking Chicken machine outside, the waffle fries that came with your chicken fingers, and, most of all, the wailing siren, clanging bell, and beating drum that would signal that someone in the restaurant (on several occasions, me) was having a birthday. Aside from being my favorite place to eat, it might have been my favorite place on earth, period.
I don’t recall the sirens and drums going off when someone ordered The Zoo or the Pig’s Trough, either or both of which seem to be the basis for Napoleon’s ice cream scene in “B&TEA.” I don’t specifically remember the Pig’s Trough, but I do recall The Zoo. I never got it, and I don’t think I ever saw anyone order it, but if I did, it would’ve looked something like the scene in this 1974 Farrell’s promotional film.
And so that, dear reader, is your basis for the best scenes in “B&TEA,” where Napoleon becomes a Zyggie Pig.
If you don’t laugh even a little at Napoleon’s wordless reactions, you’re a jerk.
The movie does kind of drag toward its inevitable conclusion (guess what, the boys pass! And get a standing ovation! Plus Beethoven is a big fan of “Slippery When Wet!”), but there’s enough in “B&TEA” to say that it still stands up pretty well, or at least no worse than it did in 1989. I will stop short of echoing the blurb from the “Blockbuster Entertainment Guide” on the back of the DVD that declares “*** 1/2! Hard to Beat!” (and, as an aside, though I do vaguely recall a “Blockbuster Entertainment Guide,” it occurs to me now that, since the company was interested in getting you to rent/buy videos, it would’ve been pretty stupid for them to give anything less than three-and-a-half stars to a movie, and a rave from them would be pretty hollow), but it still has some good dumb laughs and, I mean, it still has Napoleon. What more do you want?
And while I don’t know that I’d run out to see the long-rumored third Bill and Ted movie (as I said, I don’t even think I made it through the second), I think the first one stands as a strong representation of the end of the 1980s.
Plus, there’d almost certainly be no “Dude, Where’s My Car?” without Bill and Ted. A frightening thought, no?