Nothing bogus about Keanu Reeves in this role
by Phil Villarreal
Has there ever been a more perfect role for Keanu Reeves than floppy-haired, dim-brained high school slacker Ted "Theodore" Logan? Few actors could nail the aloof simpleton act like Reeves in his rocking, career-launching comedy.
The two "Bill & Ted's" films are comic mastery for anyone willing to give them a try. Those who brush them off with a sneer and head-shake are selling themselves short, missing out on Reeves' crack-up stoner valley dude performance, which rivals Sean Penn's Jeff Spicoli in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."
Reeves and his partner in crime, Alex Winter as Bill S. Preston, Esq., form a comedy team with whom to be reckoned. Bill and Ted are time-traveling, dimension-hopping headbangers without a clue or even a rebellion. Their sage guide, Rufus (George Carlin), has informed the boys that their band, Wyld Stallyns, is destined to usher in an era of enlightenment and world peace, but only if they can finish high school and learn how to play the guitar.
In their first film, "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure," the guys save their academic careers by skipping through history via a time-traveling phone booth to craft the ultimate report. In the sequel, which is funnier and quicker than the original, Bill and Ted are murdered by evil robot versions of themselves, also played by Reeves and Winter, and forced to regain their lives by navigating the underworld.
Avoiding bathroom humor in favor of endless sight gags, slapstick and wordplay, Bill and Ted are a riot. There is genius in their idiocy. The story starts with Bill and Ted simultaneously proposing with toy engagement rings to their girlfriends, British princesses they rescued while time-traveling. The robots, sent by villain Chuck De Nomolos (Joss Ackland) quickly dispatch the doltish heroes, who come face-to-face with the Grim Reaper, played by William Sadler in a masterful performance that deftly conjoins solemn dominance and untethered absurdity.
Most would shiver when confronted with their mortality, but not Bill and Ted. They decide to pull a "Melvin" on Death, grabbing his crotch and yanking up his underwear to run off unscathed. A botched possession leads Bill and Ted's spirits to be sent to hell, where Bill quips: "Dude, we got totally lied to by our album covers."
After facing down their personal demons, the guys challenge Death to games of skill that determine their salvation. To Death's chagrin, Bill and Ted happen to be better than he is at Battleship, Clue and Twister. Once in heaven, the guys decide the best way to get inside to have a word with God is simple: Mug unsuspecting do-gooders and steal their clothing.
Dig beneath all the dumb humor — and believe me, there's plenty of digging to do — and you'll notice a sprawling undercurrent of intellectualism. Bill and Ted are clever satires of the generation raised by MTV and Tang commercials. Their foolish expressions and shallow worldviews coalesce into bitingly clever dialogue that's all the more funny because we can laugh with, as well as at, the guys. Series creators and screenwriters Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon draw from a vast, lucrative well that later would inspire "Beavis and Butt-Head" and "Wayne's World."
"Bogus Journey" may be grounded in pop culture, but it also draws influences from academia. The persona of Death was pulled directly from the Ingmar Bergman masterpiece "The Seventh Seal" (1957), and the story structure has roots in Dante's "Divine Comedy." Don't blame the guys for quoting lyrics from Poison when they're at heaven's gate. Director Peter Hewitt, who was in his mid-20s when he made the film, also pays homage to the British comedy "A Matter of Life and Death" (1946).
"Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey" wears its intelligence like a backward baseball cap, with hilarious riffs by well-educated storytellers who prove how smart they are by making their film as funny as possible. The result is a comedy that's divine.