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MOVIE REVIEW : Bill & Ted's Excellent Sequel

July 19, 1991|MICHAEL WILMINGTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Of all the dopey movies recently--and there have been a ton of them--"Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey" (citywide) is the best.

Perhaps it's because the movie is so unabashed and glowingly open about that dopiness. Like its central characters--a pair of seraphically good-natured and cretinously self-deluded San Dimas teen-agers who pepper their conversation with interjections like "bodacious," "awesome," "egregious," "How's it hanging, dude?" and constantly exhort each other to "party on," while wildly flailing away in the air at imaginary electric guitars--this is a movie that doesn't know the meaning of embarrassment.

But there's a catch.

Perhaps an inevitable one, considering the fact that this is the sequel to the surprise 1989 hit "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure"--a movie that, despite its popularity, wasn't very good.

The original pair, as imagined by writers Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson and incarnated by actors Alex Winter (blond, frizzy-haired Bill) and Keanu Reeves (Ted, the one with the hair in his eyes)--were dimwits in excelsis , hopeless frauds blissed out on self-assurance. TV and stereo junkies suffering from media overload, they took on ludicrous, expansive superstar personas.

In almost every respect, "Bogus Journey" is better than the original: more imaginative, more opulent, wilder and freer, more excitingly visualized. "Adventure" didn't have much of anything going for it except its central characters--and, since then, writers Matheson and Solomon and actors Reeves and Winter have had time to ripen them into a fuller, mellower, more bodacious imbecility.

The first-time director, Peter Hewitt, has a richer style than "Adventure's" Stephen Herek and his fantasy scenes have vivid detail, knockout pizazz. Both production designer David L. Snyder and visual effects supervisor Richard Yuricich worked on "Blade Runner."

Even the idea, confronting these cock-eyed California optimists with their worst nightmares--Death, a plunge into a Gothic horror-movie hell--is charmingly overblown and excessive.

But "Bogus Journey" makes one crucial blunder. It gets trapped in Bill and Ted's fantasies. Much of the humor of this hard-partying pair lies in the collision of their grandiose optimism and their basic callowness: the way they stay mindlessly convinced they're on the brink or rock 'n' roll stardom, despite the fact they play and sing terribly. Yet in the sequel, the story pivots on the fact that they actually may become rock 'n' roll superstars and, even more, change the world so thoroughly that, centuries hence, an insane villain (Joss Ackland) will send evil robot doubles back to kill them, replace them and ensure they leave no mark on history.

Is this the inevitable fate of characters in sequels? One remembers the original Rocky Balboa and how amazingly his boxing skills expanded after 1977's "Rocky" became a hit. But it spoils the joke; it's as if Blake Edwards had decided that Inspector Clouseau should actually become a master detective, instead of idiotically considering himself one.

To be sure, the first movie had some of the same problem--but the first movie had lots of problems. And though "Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey" (rated PG) is obviously an improvement on the original, it may be the kind of improvement that doesn't quite register with the original's audiences. They may find it too complex, too tricky. Yet, it has something going for it. Like the happy moron who doesn't give a damn, it's a movie that lets stupidity shine out, resplendently.

'Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey'

Alex Winter: Bill

Keanu Reeves: Ted

William Sadler: The Grim Reaper

Joss Ackland: De Nomolos

A Nelson Entertainment presentation of an Interscope Communications production, released by Orion Pictures. Director Pete Hewitt. Producer Scott Kroopf. Executive producers Ted Field, Robert W. Cort. Screenplay Chris Matheson, Ed Solomon. Cinematographer Oliver Wood. Editor David Finfer. Costumes Marie France. Music David Newman. Production design David L. Snyder. Visual effects Richard Yuricich. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.

MPAA-rated PG.

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