Directed by: Stephen Herek
Written by: Chris Matheson & Ed Solomon
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin, Terry Camilleri, Dan Shor
Never has a word been used to aptly express an attitude, a way of thinking, and the quality of an experience than “excellent” in this incredibly funny and endearing feature. Something that could have been written off as too simple, becomes an idyllic and boisterous experience about history and time travel.
On the verge of failing history class, Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) get an opportunity to save themselves in their final assignment. They initially feel hopeless until a man named Rufus (George Carlin) appears before them with a time machine with the ability to take them to any point in history in hopes for them to complete their destiny and create a utopia for the future.
The initial concept of the film may sound wild, but it gets even more ridiculous as the story progresses. Even with all of the absurdity that occurs in the film, the tone matches it in each step with the protagonists we follow. What may seem like two unintelligent teens, shows Bill and Ted to be great kids, who need the proper motivation to get through high school and complete their destinies. As teens, they mostly care about their band, The Wyld Stallions, more than their actual academics, which puts Ted in jeopardy of being sent to a military school. This spells bad news for them both. This opportunity to go back in time not only allows them to learn about history but also becomes a treat for us as we see how Bill and Ted mesh with the past.
The first stop in their journey happens to be France when Napoleon reigns, where they see his petulant violent nature to attack any ambiguous people. Their jumps to different eras of history teach them plenty about the people who inhabited them and find the affections of some princesses in England. It all comes together for their brilliant plan for extra credit by actually bringing historical figures to the present for their class. Those figures include Socrates, Abraham Lincoln, Genghis Khan, Beethoven, and others. Bringing them to the present adds the comedic moments of these historical figures interacting with a modern world, which as you would expect, goes very wrong. I mean, seeing other people, not as slaves would be shocking for them, let alone the technological advances.
Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter bring such endearing qualities to these characters, which makes them worth rooting for amid all of the nonsense happening in the story. It comes from them always having a positive outlook on life and how they treat others. They try to be “excellent” to everyone they encounter and encourage it for others. Something so simple yet incredibly well-meaning. The jokes they utter would be perfect for an adolescent audience, but it remains strong decades later. For instance, they need to convince their past selves to do something critical for their journey and the way to prove they’re real they propose to guess the number they would be thinking at that moment. At the same time, they all say “69” in a way that any dumb teenager would say, which makes them incredibly likable. They have so many quotable lines unrelated to numbers like their simple “Whoa” or their catchphrase “Party On” followed by playing the air guitar. All of it surmounts to two incredibly fun characters that allow you to ignore the more questionable aspects of its screenplay. That’s all before throwing in the comedic icon, George Carlin into the mix, who does not have as much to do but still drops in some greatness in the role of Rufus. Trying to maintain his composure and belief that these two kids will be the saviors of the future takes some acting work, which Carlin provided in spades.
The performance by Reeves, in particular, really lit the fire in his career that would explode in the 1990s where he would become an action icon in Point Break, Speed, and The Matrix. Even in those more serious films, a silliness persists in Keanu’s performances, which has allowed everyone to overlook what may be questionable acting at times for a personality that warms all of our hearts in the best way. He’s such a tremendous person and portrays roles that carry that type of goodness and sincerity, which makes it impossible to hate him.
The ending brings everything together that matches the tone set from the beginning to ensure that Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure concludes in a way that does them justice. Whether it be through their great air guitars or sincere attitude, it’s difficult not finding enjoyment in this hilarious romp. They say experiential learning is critical, which is exactly what our protagonists receive when they head into the past and their interactions with the world’s most famous historical figures help them save the day and in turn, save the future.