Be excellent to each other, advises Bill S. Preston, Esq., to the puppy-dog-ish head-bobbing affirmation of his pal Ted “Theodore” Logan, in this epitome of late ’80s culture which was very well received at the time, but turned me off because it looked like stupid drug-humor celebrating the vulgarity of the era. And while it is dopey, it’s neither vulgar, nor does a single drug make an appearance. In fact, it’s so remarkably benign it’s hard to believe it came from 1989.
The premise is that none-too-bright Bill and Ted, while strategizing on their plan to be the most awesome band ever—which only peripherally includes acquiring instruments and learning to play them—are unable to grasp or retain anything being taught in history class. Their only way not to flunk is to come up with the best final history presentation, and as you might imagine, the boys aren’t real good at book learnin’.
Fortunately for them, the future (strictly of San Dimas, I think) depends on the two of them passing, lest they be split up by Ted’s strict father, who wants to send Ted to military school. The future sends an emissary (in the form of George Carlin), to make sure they succeed, rather improbably by lending them a time machine with which they can travel through history and bring actual historical figures to the present, to get their opinion of San Dimas in 1988.
They start with a trial run, fetching Napoleon and bringing him back. Since they need a lot more (apparently), they entrust the little dictator to the care of Ted’s (or maybe Bill’s) little brother. This allows cross-cutting of Bill and Ted’s hijinks in the past to contrast with Napoleon’s in the present. It also sets up the third act, when all the characters of history are running amuck at the San Dimas mall and water park—named “Waterloo”, naturally. (San Dimas has a famou water park called “Raging Waters” but all the actual water park shots were filmed in Arizona, sort of amusingly.)
As I mentioned, this is a dumb movie. Most of the jokes are pretty dumb. But it works. I can’t exactly explain it. One reason, I think, is that it stays out of the gutter. The most vulgarity we get is a nasty belch from Napoleon after he pigs out on ice cream. Napoleon also provides the primary swearing for the film, yelling out “Merde!” repeatedly after flubbing in bowling. There’s not a lot of historical accuracy here, obviously, but the screenwriters clearly decided that Napoleon was a dick. (There is one use of the word “dick” and, sort of shockingly, “fag”, by the way. I don’t remember the context, but it wasn’t anything about homosexuals.)
When Bill and Ted are trying to convince past Bill and Ted that they are them, as one does in a time travel movie, the answer to “Think of a number” is, of course, 69. There’s also a very modest down-blouse shot. Other than that, the only sexual part of the movie comes from Bill’s dad, who has married someone who seems to have been a classmate of Bill’s, a girl who really likes old guys. At one point, they kick Bill out of his own room so they can (presumably) have sex. Oh, and their secret number is 69, of course.
Meanwhile, Bill and Ted’s interaction with the distaff side, besides kidnapping Joan of Arc, is to rescue some princesses from unpleasant fianceés.
I don’t mention this to provide a catalogue for concerned parents: I’m just noting that, I didn’t go see it back then (in part) because I felt it would just be a big crude mess. This could actually be described as “corny”. Even sweet.
Having not seen this, I didn’t realize until now how closely this mirrors Wayne’s World. While not as loquacious Mike Meyer’s Wayne, Ted’s friendly puppy-dog-ish reactions to good and bad news could be considered direct rip-offs of Wayne. Of course, the way these things work, the movie could have been in development long before the firsrt “Wayne’s World” sketch aired, and Reeves may have never seen it before shooting. In any event, the future Neo nailed the part so well that he’d lament for years that “He played Ted” would be on his tombstone.
The Matrix, The Lake House and John Wick notwithstanding, this may be my favorite role of his. Alex Winter, who plays Bill, is also good, though he more-or-less vanishes from the movie scene after the cartoon series and sequel, and a few attempts to write and direct his own features. Although maybe “vanishes” is too strong a word: Maybe he just preferred to do his own thing and it just took years to get things done. He’s turned up as director for the Ben 10 cartoon series, and he’s behind the upcoming Frank Zappa documentary, which broke Kickstarter records and garnered the attention of “Mystery Science Theater 3000″‘s Joel Hodgson, who drew the attention of his record-breaking Kickstarter crowd toward the Zappa effort.
In any event, they’re actually talking about a sequel—a Bill and Ted 3—nearly 30 years later, and it’s a sequel I might actually see.