"Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" (citywide) is cultural arbiter Allan Bloom's worst nightmare come to horrifying cinematic life. It's a rock 'n' roll time-travel comedy in which two high-school dimwits with no discernible blips on the brain-wave chart act as the 20th Century's emissaries to some of the great figures of history. And it's no meeting of the minds.
Bill and Ted, played with blank, imbecilic enthusiasm by Keanu Reeves ("River's Edge") and Alex Winter, are interchangeable in their personality quirks and their willful ignorance. Both of them are sad clones of a movie character: Jeff Spiccoli, sketched so spookily by Sean Penn in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." Bill and Ted differ from Spiccoli, their "stoner" predecessor, only in that there are no drug references here to account for their allegedly jocular lack of ambition or interest in education or self-improvement.
The day before they're to be expelled, the two are thrust by a futuristic visitor (George Carlin) into a time vortex, allowing them to kidnap eight of the more important figures of Western Civilization for an all-important history-class oral report.
Bill and Ted convince Lincoln, Beethoven, Joan of Arc, Freud, Socrates, et al. to stop being so stuffy and high-minded and just loosen up, dudes, 1989 California-style.
Thus: Napoleon trades in Waterloo for a day at the water slides. Joan of Arc gives up the spiritual life for hard-core aerobics. Beethoven starts doing squealing hard-rock solos on a synthesizer and learns to love Bon Jovi. Socrates tries to pick up girls at the mall. And swingin' Abe Lincoln sagely advises an assembly of history students: "Be excellent to each other, and . . . party on, dudes! "
Are we in hell yet, dudes?
Make no mistake, "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" (MPAA-rated PG) is not a satire of mindlessness; it's unabashed glorification of dumbness for dumbness' sake. Bill and Ted are heroic in their ability to reduce some of history's great minds to their level. As for Mr. Bloom's minions (as well as most grown-ups considerably to his left), in lieu of excellent laughs, one can strain to hear the sound of a theater's worth of American minds snapping shut.