Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
Nutshell: The evil De Nomolos (Joss Ackland) has stepped out of the shadows to kill Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves), sending evil robot versions of the lovable dopes back in time, preventing them from achieving world peace with their band Wyld Stallyns. Now dead, Bill and Ted wind through Heaven and Hell, searching for a chance to return to Earth and save the day. Tagging along is the Grim Reaper (William Sadler) and Martian scientists Station, who assist the heroes in their fight to reclaim the future, protect the babes, and perfect their tunes.
1991: Being a teenager, a burgeoning metalhead, and a disciple of 1989’s “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” the excitement of “Bogus Journey” wasn’t lost on me. I was raring to see the picture, delighted with another opportunity to spend time with these endearing idiots and their eternal quest to bring Wyld Stallyns to the world. There wasn’t a better match of moviegoer and movie.
“Bogus Journey” belongs in a rare sequel classification where the creators clearly didn’t have any plans for a part two. “Excellent Adventure” was a contained motion picture, delivering the antics of the titular heroes with a finality that didn’t easily lend itself to further features. When the film became a box office hit (after a few years in distribution limbo), a second round of “Bill & Ted” was quickly ordered up, but where could it go? What was left to say? Nothing, really. This unexpected sequel opportunity permitted screenwriters Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon to take the premise anywhere. And that’s exactly where they went.
Being at a more receptive age for the anarchy of “Bogus Journey,” the picture blew my mind. I was stunned by the feature, practically receiving windburn from the gale force creativity blasting from the screen. “Bogus Journey” isn’t truly a sequel, it’s a blizzard of ideas and references slapped together into a superball of a motion picture, bounced around with palpable glee by director Peter Hewitt. It was nuts, merging Ingmar Bergman parodies with Faith No More cameos, crossing life and death, yet it was exactly the proper course to take at the time, with the commodification of Bill and Ted extending to cartoon programs and breakfast cereals. The sequel returned a sense of devilish fun to the series, which is perhaps why it didn’t drum up much business at the multiplex despite prime summer release real estate and the overall momentum of the franchise.
It’s almost as if Matheson and Solomon wanted to destroy the brand name with a creation so odd and off-putting, Bill and Ted would swiftly return to the cult realm from which they were born.
I adored this movie in 1991, which placed ninth on my Top Ten of the year.
2011: I was a little afraid to find out how “Bogus Journey” plays these days. Without my youthful sincerity to protect me, I feared the film would die at first sight. Granted, much of the movie is dated, from costumes to the multiple usage of “fag” as a taunt, but the larger portrait of madness is as exquisite as it was 20 years ago. How something like this made its way through the studio system and into multiplexes is one of the great moviemaking mysteries.
The wily experimentation of “Bogus Journey” is its most endearing characteristic. Instead of loading up the time-traveling phone booth and interacting with around round of bewildered historical figures, the sequel attempts to master another excellent adventure: death. The script is a darkly comic creation that brings together the dim-bulb humor of the original picture with a rather vivid psychological plunge that finds our heroes in Hell battling their worst fears. Solomon and Matheson run wild with the plot, conjuring a phantasmagoria of creatures, robots, life, death, and evil Easter bunnies, dragging Bill and Ted through a series of challenges that make the first film look like a Disney picture. It’s never mean, but the execution isn’t afraid to bite between broadly comic events, giving kids a more challenging ride for their allowance money.
Faced with the impossible task of following “Excellent Adventure,” the screenwriters didn’t even try to replicate the formula. Instead, they went bonkers, which is exactly why this film is such a scream.
Lightning paced and openly destructive, the picture is a carefree creation, observing Bill and Ted kill Bill and Ted over control of the future. The science isn’t quite there, but it’s nice to find the cast returning to the scene of the crime, with Reeves and Winter contributing a full-bodied, air-guitar-strumming effort in multiple roles (Bill even confronts his heinous grandmother in Hell, also played by Winter). Their screen energy is just perfect, selling the madness with traditional stupidity, while encouraging the cluelessness of the characters further, just to keep matters successfully absurd once the afterlife enters the picture. The boys are magic.
Making an exquisite impression is Sadler, showing plucky comedic chops as the perennially flustered Grim Reaper. Working his ghoulish make-up in a hilarious series of reactions, Sadler is a joy as Death, an imposing figure of mortality who can’t seem to beat Bill and Ted at board games or sense an oncoming melvin. Poor guy. Without Rufus around (the late George Carlin merely cameos here), Grim Reaper picks up the slack in the support department.
With a soundtrack containing hits from Megadeth, Faith No More, and Kiss, the return of Amy Stock-Poynton as Missy (“I mean, Mom”), and an ultimate showdown at a Battle of the Bands contest overseen by a hair-metalesque Pam Grier, there’s not a lot to object to here. It’s an anarchic motion picture, but reveals triumphant originality — a sublime daredevil of a film that authentically assumes a great deal of risk. Not many sequels can lay claim to that.
Of course, there’s talk now of a third “Bill & Ted” picture, picking up the boys in their forties, still trying to pen that perfect Wyld Stallyns song. Granted, I’m a sucker for resuscitated franchises, and it would be a treat to watch Reeves and Winter return to these characters, battling against whatever Solomon and Matheson could possibly dream up for a third round of San Dimas adventure. Another film would be great. It would be a joy. It would be most excellent.