Surprise Hit's Wacky Sequel 'Bill & Ted' in Warp Speed
by Paul Freeman
In “Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey,” the daffy duo find God. They also encounter the devil, the Grim Reaper, a pair of Martians, the Easter Bunny and Albert Einstein.
Orion Pictures initially rejected screenwriters Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon's concept for this sequel. However, the project's stars, Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter, insisted on the irreverent, bizarre approach, and the endearingly dim-witted Bill and Ted were on their way to hilarious tours of heaven and hell.
When the young actors committed to the follow-up to the surprise hit “Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure,” they insisted that they go into fast forward, not rewind. The first movie took Bill and Ted to the past in a wild attempt to save them from flunking their history class. The new one gives them a chance to save the world and win the Battle of the Bands.
Reeves says, “We didn't want to just regurgitate the first one . . . The first one was simpler, humbler. This one's more ambitious and audacious.” Winter adds, “I was concerned that we had more of a plot, that we stretched the characters and the comedy farther.”
Winter, 25, and Reeves, 26, friends offscreen as well as on, make an odd couple. The blond, green-eyed, 5-foot-7 Winter, affable and articulate, studied film at New York University. He showed up at a posh Santa Monica hotel sporting a Butthole Surfers T-shirt and a barely perceptible stubble.
Reeves, a hyperkinetic high school dropout looks like a street person. The eccentric performer pushes his dirty hands through a scruffy beard and matted hair. His clothes are dirty, and he enters making fake belching and flatulent noises.
The characters, nonetheless, have an undeniable charm. Bill and Ted's exploits have a wide appeal, if you have an offbeat perspective of the world. “Bogus Journey” contains references ranging from Van Halen to Ingmar Bergman.
“People respond,” Winter says, “because Bill and Ted have a quest and never give up, no matter how hard the going gets.” The much-imitated valley vernacular the characters use -- “most excellent,” “heinous,” “dude” -- also contributes to the popularity of the movies.
YOUNG moviegoers feel at home with Bill and Ted. “Kids identify with the frustration of living in suburbia,” Winter says. “They feel imprisoned, deprived of any kind of culture or stimuli. Coming from that kind of neighborhood, you either become a Satan worshiper, get out or retreat into your own imagination. Bill and Ted retreat into their own heads.”
Winter and Reeves were born far from Bill and Ted's hometown of San Dimas, Calif. Winter, the son of modern dancers, was born in London and was raised in St. Louis. He performed extensively on and off-Broadway. His film acting credits include “The Lost Boys” and “Rosalie Goes Shopping.” With partner Tom Stern, he wrote and directed MTV's satirical comedy show “The Idiot Box,” as well as creating music videos.
Reeves was born in Beirut, Lebanon. His mother is English, his father Chinese-Hawaiian. Keanu is Hawaiian for “cool breeze over the mountains.” He grew up in Australia, New York and Toronto. Since his acclaimed performance as a troubled teenager in “The River's Edge,” he has maintained a frantic filming pace, in such films as “Parenthood” and “Dangerous Liaisons.”
REEVES has a special rapport with his current character. “There's a lot of joy in Ted. He loves practical jokes and rock and roll. He's a pretty straight-up guy. He changed my life. I got into the Ted state of mind. By playing him, I tapped into something in myself that I hadn't really seen. It's the openness of his thinking.”
Winter reveals three hidden similarities between Bill and himself: “his love for falafel, the Jewish faith and a cross-dressing habit. Really, like Bill, I lived in my imagination when I was a kid. I had that world that you can create with a buddy.”
Winter concedes that the nation's youth may look upon Bill and Ted as role models. “'God, I hope not. They probably do, but in a very temporary, very shallow way. The fact that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are role models is a good indication that kids don't dig too deeply into their heroes. If Bill and Ted are role models, at least they're sincere, compassionate and imaginative.”
The impact of Bill and Ted, who are sort of Laurel and Hardy with electric guitars and lobotomies, caught the industry off guard. The first movie, after Dino DeLaurentiis' DEG company went bankrupt, sat on a shelf, finally was released with modest expectations, scored big at the box office, and bigger on cable and video. Reeves, who currently also can be seen in “Point Break,” stars in the fall picture “My Private Idaho.” Winter plans to write and direct a dark comedy called “Freekz” in October. Could they be talked into participating in a third Bill and Ted installment?
Winter says, “I'd like to return to the characters way down the line, catch up to them when they're in their 30s or 40s.”