Published Jan 31, 2013For the many highs (The Matrix, My Own Private Idaho) and lows (The Watcher, The Lake House) that followed, we have Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure to thank for being the film that ignited Keanu Reeves' career. It's also the first time the popular but seldom respected actor uttered the immortal term "whoa!" that has frequently (fairly or not) painted him as a one-trick stoner. In fact, Bill & Ted is probably the most beloved burn-out film to not actually feature any hint of the mind-altering plant, being a decidedly PG affair; or maybe these two prototypical slackers really are just meant to be amiable idiots.
Age and maturity does this distinctive product of the late '80s no favours. It's a lot harder to simply overlook the unadulterated foolishness of their ultra-convenient time-tripping odyssey once one has acquired any kind of life experience (read: is no longer under the age of ten), or not high as a kite with a nostalgia craving.
Like the film's titular "heroes", writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon are well intentioned but prone to acts of unthinking senselessness. The contradictory message behind all the simplistic history-hopping shenanigans seems to be that society and indeed, the whole planet, would be better off if everyone stopped worrying about knowing stuff and just learned to have a good time. If you grew up in the '80s, chances are you're familiar with the plot. A radical (meant in the generally positive, not political, usage of the word) dude from a pollution-free future where everyone likes bowling, waterslides and electric guitar shredding uses a Tardis-biting phone booth time machine to visit the future saviours of the planet and keep them on the path towards enlightenment and not sucking.
This means giving two guys with barely the concentration to play a two-chord sequence the use of a time machine in order to collect historical personages to present at their oral report for the history class that both bodacious underachievers are rocking an F in. If they fail, Ted's dad means to ship him off to military school, thus messing with the space-time continuum for a future where air-guitar is a regal sign of respect and bro-speak reigns supreme.
As they fumble through time, Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Reeves) have exceedingly brief and superficial encounters with exactly who they need to find, reducing each historical figure to a couple of catch phrases and sight gags – Sigmund Freud brandishing a drooping corn dog while talking to two young women is much more amusing than Napoleon being banished from a bowling alley. As for the two imbeciles who will found the world-changing wank-metal band, Wyld Stallyns, most of their jokes revolve around the clueless phonetic pronunciations of Socrates and Beethoven.
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure is the type of ludicrous fantasy where everything happens just as it needs to – friendships are forged without reason and everyone from presidents to warlords are happy to pitch in when Bill's trophy wife mom won't give him a ride until his chores are finished. Right down to its conclusion, this strange bit of cinematic history reinforces the idea that knowledge is unnecessary when you have shock, awe, and a positive attitude at your disposal. Party on?
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the Whoa: The Films of Keanu Reeves retrospective at 9pm on February 1st, 2013. (Orion)