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Mix two handsome teenage lunkheads with a eye-rolling George Carlin and a telephone booth that travels through time and what do you get? A surprise hit and cult classic that spawned a sequel, a cartoon series, and even a short-lived breakfast cereal. But 23 years later, how does this beloved '80s buddy comedy hold up? That's what I'm here answer.
Set in 1988 San Dimas, California, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure stars Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves as Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted Theodore Logan, two sweet but dopey teens who dream of becoming rock legends. First, they must learn to play guitar…and pass their oral history report so that their would-be band Wyld Stallyns can ultimately become a transformative and peaceful inspiration to the entire universe.
To assure Bill & Ted fulfill their destiny, Rufus (George Carlin in an uncharacteristically friendly role), a man from the future, travels back in time via a specially equipped phone booth to give this duo of dunces the tool they need to properly research how historical figures would respond to contemporary San Dimas. So the boys zig and zag through time to snag historical figures like Napoleon Bonaparte, Socrates, Joan of Arc and Abraham Lincoln. With their help, the pair hopes to avoid flunking out thereby keeping Ted from being sent away to an Alaskan military school, which would doom Wyld Stallyns, and by extension, all mankind!
The premise is so willfully silly it's impossible not to smile as Rufus lays it down. And while the time loop logic makes little sense, really, who cares? Winter and Reeves' affable energy combined with the comedy's goofy but warm sense of humor is so sincere and sweet that it's cozy, and easy to back fall into. As the charismatic boys pontificate with words they don't totally understand—albeit with hilarious mispronunciations—it's clear how their inclusive and joyful message of "Be excellent to each other," and "Party on, dudes!" could catch on.
Of course some of the jokes are wincingly dated—like when the boys hug then call each other "fag"—but by and large their goofy antics and Three Stooges-style physical comedy is still solidly fun. Between its likeable level of lunacy, cheerful worldview that rock music can save the world, and lovable doofus leads, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure is still bodacious and most triumphant.
Paying homage to the most excellent activity of air guitar, the disc boasts a special 13-minute tutorial hosted by self-proclaimed "second best air guitarist in the world" Björn Türoque and The Rockness Monster, both of whom memorably appeared in the niche documentary Air Guitar Nation. It's a good concept, but Türoque, who dominates this featurette, is deeply pretentious about this hobby, which is jarring coming off of the exuberant and sincere joy that is Bill & Ted's take on air guitar.
There's also "The Original Bill & Ted: In Conversation with Chris & Ed," a twenty-minute discussion between the film's screenwriters Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, who based the feature's central relationship on their own friendship. The pair reminisce about how the characters of Bill & Ted evolved as Chris & Ed's comedy careers grew. It's mildly interesting, but not terribly insightful or entertaining. Bizarrely, there is also a collection of six of the movie's radio ads played over promo stills. This adds to the feel that the Blu-ray's special features were an afterthought, though the original theatrical trailer is a welcomed addition.
More in-line with what I expected from this Blu-ray release is "One Sweet and Sour Chinese Adventure to Go," the first episode of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures cartoon series, complete with a rockin' theme song (I was pleasantly surprised at how much of its lyrics I remembered). In this episode, Bill & Ted's jam session is disturbing the Preston residence, knocking over Missy's—I mean Bill's stepmom's—antique Chinese vase. To replace it, the boys travel back to "antique China," where they find the vase…along with a load of trouble. Winter, Reeves and Carlin reprise their roles, and while Bill & Ted aren't so sharp, the humor is peppered with witty asides and allusions to history and pop culture. The animation itself is rubbery, but actually suits the Looney Tunes sense of humor. This episode was actually so much fun to revisit, it has me wishing the cartoon series will get a DVD release of its own.
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