Retro movie review: Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

It is well nigh impossible not to love a movie that features Death aka the Grim Reaper in a dress, Martians that resemble the love children of Ewoks and Cling and Clang from H. R. Pufnstuf and good and bad stoner dude robots of various levels of technological sophistication.

Which is why upon re-watching Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey after a 29-year break, it occurred to this reviewer that screenwriters Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon knew what they were doing when they sent our favourite wannabe rockstars on the adventure to end all adventures in the off-the-charts hilariously wacky sequel to 1989’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

Loopy it may appear, and in many instances is, channeling an Eighties-into-Nineties sensibility and aesthetic with gutsy abandon, but it works, and work hilariously and magnificently well, because at the heart of this story of madcap improbabilities are two goodhearted protagonists who simply want the best for each other and those they love (include their medieval English princesses Elizabeth (Annette Azcuy) and Joann (Sarah Trigger)).

Bill and Ted may be a little slow to pick up on some things, and yes, there are times you wander how it is they manage to pay the rent and bills on their ramshackle, motel room -resembling apartment, but ultimately they’re not as stupid as they appear, and they have hearts as big as the Utopian future their music somehow generates 700 years into the future.

So, while many of the plot elements in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey are over-the-top ridiculous, and happily, delightfully so, you go along with it, not just because it’s damn funny, which it is, but because there is a kind and sweet current right through the middle of it.

And in a sequel that’s refreshingly happy not to simply tick all the boxes all over again, there’s also a great deal more humanity than you might expect at work too.

For one thing – SPOILERS AHEAD!!! – Ted “Theodore” Logan and William S. “Bill” Preston (Keanu Reeve and Alex Winters) respectively die!

For real, dude, it is a most not-not-heinous development, a fate too awful for two young men on the cusp of rock ‘n’ roll stardom (at least in their own minds) and all brought about by nefarious rebels from the neon-clothed environs of 2691, led by Chuck De Nomolos (Joss Ackland), wo apparently don’t like living in a world free of war and famine and oppressively fashionable clothing choices.

Granted, the future is a tad twee and the Bill & Ted cult worship is hilarious in the extreme but surely you’d accept a weird ass religion if it means endless peace, love and tofu for all?

Apparently not, and so Chuck sends evil Bill and evil Ted, programmed to have murder on their mind and a penchant for smashing dinner settings, to kill our two guys in a bid to stop the kumbayah future so beloved by the likes of Rufus (George Carlin) from ever coming to be.

Now, that is HEINOUS and you have to wonder how Bill & Ted, who possess a singular ability to fix the most improbable of problems, through tenacious optimism if nothing else, are going to fix being dead.

After all, it’s not the most fixable of problems.

Quite how they manage it is best left to a viewing of this most bodacious of sequels but suffice to say, it involves Death, games of Twister and Battleship and trips through heaven and hell that are some of the most fun anyone has ever had beyond the mortal realm.

It’s also far more affecting than you might think as Bill & Ted are forced to not only wrestle with their prematurely-induced deaths but all kinds of heinous things happen to those they love and a future of which they are still only dimly aware they are the progenitors.

In amongst all this ending of life and beginnings thereof, and the pell-mell dash to the San Dimas Battle of the Bands, from which Utopia somehow oddly springs forth, there’s also a great deal of very funny things going on.

Take the scene in which the souls of Bill and Ted, in a bid to get the police to act on the fact that evil future robots are on a murderous future-ending rampage through San Dimas, inhabit the bodies of Ted’s dad Captain Johnathan “John” Logan (Hal Landon Jr.) and his second-in-command Deputy James (Roy Brocksmith), possess the bodies of the two men to hilarious but bewildering (for the other policemen that is) effect.

The scene is short and sweet, and not overplayed at all, and adds a little comedic silliness to what is a fairly urgent mission for Bill and Ted.

They don’t want to be dead, they don’t want the evil Bill and Ted to succeed in their Utopian ending mission and they want to keep Elizabeth and Joana safe; some pretty serious, affecting impelling elements bundled into a whole lot of tomfoolery and it works an absolute treat.

What works so well for Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey is that it knows it a riot of goofy wackiness and doesn’t try to pretend otherwise.

It inhabits its persona with gusto and absolute commitment to cleverly-wrough inanity, as does Reeves and Winters as Bill & Ted, and it doesn’t try to recreate what came for (save for the appearance of some randomly-selected historical figures), preferring to cut its own gleefully idiosyncratic trail.

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey is a joy – it has hilarity, lots of humanity, some outlandish ideas which it mostly sticks on landing, all glorying in the uplifting idea that not even Death can defeat you if you are committed to being a world famous rock band (and hell, may even JOIN the band), to being excellent to each other and to being the most non-heinous people possible, even in the face of leering dead grandmothers and psychotic Easter bunnies.

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