Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)




The thought just occurred to me that it would have been great to see this movie in the mall where some of the action takes place.  That would have been a definite possibility; a good portion of the film was made in the greater Phoenix area, and the mall scenes were filmed at Metrocenter.  I could drive at the time this came out, though the vehicle I had was the usual piece of junk you give a teenager to make sure he can't drive it too much.  I forget if I had my truck the day I went to go see Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, but I could have just as easily been stuck on the bus.  That would have meant the 15-minute drive to Metrocenter would have taken an hour and a half to two hours; honestly, our bus system is still one of the things we have left over from the '80s. 

To get back on track, I did see this at a mall.  Christown was the second mall built in the city of Phoenix itself, and the first enclosed and air conditioned one.  Metrocenter was the third, and since they were both on my side of town, they were sort of rivals, although you typically went to them for different reasons.  Metro was more the typical '80s hangout as portrayed in the movie, while Christown wasn't as overwhelming when it came to actually shopping or going to a movie.  

Until recently, both of them still existed.  The theater I saw Bill and Ted at in Christown is long gone years ago, but the mall still exists and does a moderate amount of business despite not being in a great part of town.  Metrocenter wasn't so fortunate, as the are it is situated in became even worse that that of Christown, and as shopping habits changed it died.  As of June 30, 2020, it will cease to be.  In some ways it would be neat to borrow Bill and Ted's phone booth and head back to see it one more time, as it was barely a sad echo of itself in its closing days, and really not much like what you see in this movie. 

Unlike Metrocenter, I was amazed at how well Excellent Adventure has aged.  The benefit in this case is that, although this is definitely an extremely '80s film, a major part of the plot is that we are looking back at the time through the eyes of the 27th century, when the music of Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter)  and Ted "Theodore" Logan (Keanu Reeves), in the form of their band, Wyld Stallyns, has refashioned the entire world into a utopian society.  The problem is, this future isn't certain, as it can all be undone by one specific event - the musical duo failing their history exam. 

By "failing most heinously" it is guaranteed that the band will have to break up, as Ted's father (Hal Landon Jr.) is determined to send his kid to a military school in Alaska to shape him up.  Faced with this eminent separation, the powers-that-be in the future send Rufus (George Carlin) back in time to give the friends their own time machine and, after accidentally dragging Napoleon (Terry Camilleri) back with them, they decide to go about collecting figures from history to bring back to their city of San Dimas and get their opinion on the modern world.  Along the way they manage to gather Billy the Kid (Dan Shor), Socrates (Tony Steedman), Sigmund Freud (Rod Loomis), Genghis Khan (Al Leong), Beethoven (Clifford Davis), Joan of Arc (Jane Wiedlin) and Abraham Lincoln (Robert V. Barron).  They also manage to catch the eye of a couple 15th-century princesses (Diane Franklin and Kimberly Kates).  

What they also manage to do is let Napoleon loose on San Dimas, and, in one of the most memorable scenes of any '80s movie, the rest loose in the San Dimas Mall.  However, as Rufus explains, no matter what time they are in the clock keeps ticking in their own time, so faced with a deadline they must make sure they gather everyone back together to make it on time for their report. 

I remember watching this and enjoying the silly comedy, and admiring the mixture of things they got right and wrong.  Most of the characters speak their own language, and a couple (Sigmund Freud and Beethoven) seem to speak multiple, thus we have a time travel tale where not everyone is speaking English.  The English in England (the 1400s) is definitely modernized (we would probably understand a third to a half of what they were saying), but for the most part they get around that old trope.  There were definitely no Neanderthals in California at any point, but best to wonder that they bothered to even try to be historically accurate at any point.  The one that gets shortest shrift, though, is Genghis Khan, portrayed in a much more crude fashion than he probably was, but he and Joan of Arc get the best physical comedy moments. 

That also brings up another point.  For what is supposed to be a movie about two not-so-bright misfits, there is a lot of smart comedy throughout.  Co-writer Chris Matheson is the son of Richard Matheson, the author and screenwriter that brought us I Am Legend and The Incredible Shrinking Man, as well as numerous other films and television shows.  The other writer, Ed Solomon, is kind of spotty in the movies he's written, but he was responsible for the original Men in Black.  The whole thing about time travelling teenagers arose from a skit film they were putting together and, on the advice of the elder Matheson, they developed this one further.  It is great seeing it as an adult rather than as a teenager knowing much more about the historical characters, which makes scenes involving Sigmund Freud and a corn dog and Napoleon's plans to invade Russia to set up water slides stick out after all these years of just paying attention to the other shenanigans going on. 

Needless to say, Keanu Reeves seemed his most comfortable in this role, and managed to use this as a springboard for a larger career even though it might be argued that Alex Winter, who all but disappeared after this movie's sequel, was the better actor.  No one had to sell me on Jane Wiedlin as Joan of Arc, as she was the one Go-Go that I had a bit of a crush on, and Robert V. Barron does one of my favorite portrayals of Lincoln.  

It is an '80s film and, even for the time, barely had a budget.  Still, the special effects hold up better than a lot of movies do these days, particularly the "Circuits of Time" scenes.  The times when the duo meet themselves are obvious doubles (with bad dubbing), but everything can't be perfect.  And, saying as this movie came out over three decades ago, it definitely isn't for a modern audience, but not as cringeworthy as number of '80s films when it gets down to it.  There is a scene where they hug each other and blurt out a certain slur against homosexuals, but that is about the worst of the "different times" scenes.  For the time period, it is pretty tame for a teen comedy, even a PG-rated one, but it is still absolutely hilarious and unlike anything else out at the time.  

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)
Time: 90 minutes
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin, Dan Shor, Robert V. Barron, Terry Camilleri, Tony Steedman, Rod Loomis, Al Leong, Jane Wiedlin
Director: Stephen Herek

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