Skip to main content

Death to Bill and Ted!

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
(1991)

(SPOILERS) The game of how few sequels are actually better than the original is so well worn, it was old when Scream 2 made a major meta thing out of it (and it wasn’t). Bill & Ted Go to Hell, as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was originally called, is one such, not that Excellent Adventure is anything to be sneezed at, but this one’s more confident, even more playful, more assured and more smartly stupid. And in Peter Hewitt it has a director with a much more overt and fittingly cartoonish style than the amiably pedestrian Stephen Herrick.


Evil Bill: First, we totally kill Bill and Ted.
Evil Ted: Then we take over their lives.

My recollection of the picture’s general consensus was that it surpassed the sleeper hit original, but Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregator suggests a less universal response. And, while it didn’t rock any oceans at the box office, Bogus Journey and Point Break did quite nicely for Keanu Reeves in the summer of ’91 (inflation-adjusted, it was the size of John Wick: Chapter Two, which emphasises how much parities have changed – the dollar then was worth twice what it is now). They still might be the best back-to-back pairings the actor has had, both trading to some extent on his (then) airhead rep, but effectively showcasing him in entirely different genres.


Of course, this is very much a case of inseparable equals, even if Alex Winter has mostly concentrated on directing since. And of another pair of inseparable equals in writers Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson, the former having been considerably more prolific since, although not necessarily laudably so (the Now You See Mes are hopefully to his chagrin). They mostly ensure Bogus Journey is as inspired and irreverent as the original. Indeed, it’s only problem is that the first two acts are such a delirium of energy and creativity that, once our doofus heroes return to the real world, the proceedings have to content themselves with merely chugging along to a satisfying rather than sublime conclusion.



Evil Ted: Aim for the cat, dude! Aim for the cat!
Evil Bill: I’m trying, Evil Ted, I’m trying!

Much of the fun here comes from watching Reeves and Winter playing evil versions of their alter egos. It has to be said that this isn’t Joss Ackland’s final hour, but Chuck De Nomolos’ – “My old teacher”: “Rufus, my favourite pupil” almost mocks the convention but then can’t be bothered – doppelganger creations find Solomon and Matheson taking on a gleeful deconstruction of the main characters and in so doing making them every bit as appealing as their goodly originals.


Evil Bill: Hello, Logan residence. Evil Bill S Preston, Esq, speaking.

The best of this is that they identify themselves as “Evil Bill” and “Evil Ted”. Trying to run over cats, impersonating the babes with the most juvenile make-believe that the real Bill and Ted inevitably swallow (“We think you’re losers, and we never want to see you again. We’re going to the desert to be alone”) and killing them in the exact location Captain Kirk fought the Gorn in Arena is the icing on cake. They even talk back to their maker (“I hate them. I hate the robot versions of them”: “You made us, Dude”). It’s a shame Matheson and Solomon couldn’t keep the Evil Bill and Ted subplot going while their good versions were in hell, as you can’t help feel there was more ripe material to plunder. The evil robot doubles also deserve credit for knowing when they’re outmatched (“Kudos to you, good human usses”).


Ms Wardroe: The girls, they can play, but you guys.
Bill: Girls mature faster than guys.
Ted: Plus, they started in the fifteenth century.

Bill and Ted’s winning line in stupid-clever is in full effect as they’re given a mountain to climb; their dreams are no closer to fulfilment, with the babes far more musically proficient and Ted still under threat of military school (asked by his dad what he will do if they lose the battle of the bands, he replies “I guess, maybe sell some more blood”). Added to which, Missy – the appropriation of the name is further evidence that the Moff has stolen wholesale from Bill and Ted with his version of Doctor Who, only, like Pam Ayres’ mother’s flit gun, devoid of charm – has divorced Bill’s dad and married Ted’s (“Maybe she’ll marry you”: “Yeah, then I’ll be my own stepdad”).


Ted: I hope this works.
Bill: It worked in The Exorcist I and III!

Matheson and Solomon carry off some marvellously silly conceits, such as Melvin-ing death putting him sufficiently off his stride that Bill and Ted can escape and attempt to warn their families. And I love that they throw in the I and III line to possession working in The Exorcists (beautifully nerdy). Hal Landon Jr is hilarious as Ted (“I totally possessed my dad!”; “Catch you later, cop dudes!”) More might have been made of the séance sequence (“How’s it going, New Age dudes?”), other than seeing down Missy’s top (“That’s your mum, dude!”). But it reconfirms this is a very Christianity-cued take on death and the afterlife, which at least makes things simpler.


Bill: Ted, it’s the Grim Reaper, dude.
Ted: How’s it hanging, Death?

The scene stealer of Bogus Journey is William Sadler, of course, most recently showing off his butt as a not-so-great villain in Die Hard 2: Die Harder (making you wonder if Death’s later rear reference was an intentional nod). Death is truculent and an extremely bad sport, shifting the rules when he loses (“Best of seven?”: “Damn right”), but what sets him off so perfectly is Sadler’s strangled Eastern European enmity (“You have sunk my battleship” is funny wholly for the delivery).


Death: I will… take you back.
Bill: You played very well, Death. Especially with your totally heavy death robes.
Death: Don’t patronise me.

Hewitt is taking his Death iconography from Ingmar Bergman, of course, and its thus entirely appropriate that he should plunder Powell and Pressburger for heaven. Hell is as much Greek legend-inspired, with an eternity of repetition of a dread experience, but also takes in Warner Bros cartoons (“Dude, this is a totally deep hole” as they continue falling down it), heavy metal (“We got totally lied to by our album covers”), and misconstruing Satan’s apparent altruism (“You know, you got a bad rap, but you’re actually an okay dude”).


The selection of personal hells might have merited a bit more thought behind them, ranging as they do from the brutal (“Get down, and give me infinity!”), to suitably gross (“How about… a kiss for your dear old granny” – fantastic that Bill’s gran is Granny S Preston, Esq), to rather lame (the Easter bunny).


Ted: Dude, we’re in heaven, and we just mugged three people.
Bill: I know. We better get out of here before we ruin it for everyone.

That Bill and Ted should quote Poison lyrics to gain an audience with God seems entirely appropriate (“Every rose has its thorn…”), and it’s only with the introduction of Station(s) that the picture loses steam a little. Aside from being an extended butt gag –


Ted: You are a most excellent scientist, Station.
Bill: Yes, plus you have a most excellently huge Martian butt.
Death: Don’t overlook my butt. I work out all the time. And reaping burns a lot of calories.


– they’re passive, neither funny nor interesting, and Bogus Journey is unable to maintain its hellish momentum once back on Earth. But the battle has been won by that point. One might pick bones with the return of the piss-take time travel logic motif (loved by aforementioned Stephen Moffat, who could only hope to do it as well, or even in material where it was appropriate), but it isn’t overused and, rather, it’s a neat and efficient way of finishing things off (“Only the winners are going to be able to go back and set something up!”)


Death: You might be a high flier or a little street sweeper,
But sooner or later you dance with the Reaper.

I’ve mentioned a few of the picture’s pop culture references, and it’s gratifying that they’re often the most offbeat ones, such as the solution to a game of charades being Smokey and the Bandit III: Smokey is the Bandit or the end credits “Grim Reaper in lip synch scandal” invoking the ghosts of Milli Vanilli).


Bill: Ted?
Ted: What?
Bill: Don’t fear the Reaper.
Death: I heard that.

Other stupid movies have been more successful (Dumb and Dumber) or more barefaced-derivative (Dude, Where’s my Car, which, don’t get me wrong, is pretty great) but none have been quite as perfect in maintaining a tone of clever stupidity as this trilogy. Because, yes, I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Someone must want to fund the final part. If Gilliam can get The Man Who Killed Don Quixote off the ground after almost two decades, if Pee Wee Herman can get another movie, surely Bill and Ted can go wherever it is they’re due to go next? Of course, I was anticipating Part III when I last watched Excellent Adventure three years ago, but Reeves did at least confirm the follow up to Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey remained on the cards when he guested on The Graham Norton Show earlier this year. It would be most non-non-non-non-non-heinous if they finally got it greenlit. And if all else fails, I’m sure Netflix would lap it up.




Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

Romulan ale should be illegal.

Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
(SPOILERS) Out of the ST:NG movies, Star Trek: Nemesis seems to provoke the most outrage among fans, the reasons mostly appearing to boil down to continuity and character work. In the case of the former, while I can appreciate the beef, I’m not enough of an aficionado to get too worked up. In the case of the latter, well, the less of the strained inter-relationships between this bunch that make it to the screen, the better (director Stuart Baird reportedly cut more than fifty minutes from the picture, most of it relating to underscoring the crew, leading to a quip by Stewart that while an Actor’s Cut would include the excised footage, a Director’s one would probably be even shorter). Even being largely unswayed by such concerns, though, Nemesis isn’t very good. It wants to hit the same kind of dramatic high notes as The Wrath of Khan (naturally, it’s always bloody Khan) but repeatedly drifts into an out-of-tune dirge.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

By Jove, the natives are restless tonight.

The Avengers 4.17: Small Game for Big Hunters
I wonder if Death at Bargain Prices’ camping scene, suggestive of an exotic clime but based in a department store, was an inspiration for Small Game For Big Hunters’ more protracted excursion to the African country of Kalaya… in Hertfordshire. Gerry O’Hara, in his second of two episodes for the show again delivers on the atmosphere, making the most of Philip Levene’s teleplay.

Two hundred thousand pounds, for this outstanding example of British pulchritude and learning.

The Avengers 4.18: The Girl From Auntie
I’ve mentioned that a few of these episodes have changed in my appreciation since I last watched the series, and The Girl from Auntie constitutes a very pronounced uptick. Indeed, I don’t know how I failed to rate highly the estimable Liz Fraser filling in for Diana Rigg – mostly absent, on holiday –for the proceedings (taking a not dissimilar amateur impostor-cum-sidekick role to Fenella Fielding in the earlier The Charmers). I could watch Fraser all day, and it’s only a shame this was her single appearance in the show.

Old Boggy walks on Lammas Eve.

Jeeves and Wooster 2.5: Kidnapped  (aka The Mysterious Stranger)
Kidnapped continues the saga of Chuffnell Hall. Having said of 2.4 that the best Wodehouse adaptations tend to stick closely to the text, this one is an exception that proves the rule, diverging significantly yet still scoring with its highly preposterous additions.

Jeeves: Tis old boggy. He be abroad tonight. He be heading for the railway station.
Gone are many of the imbroglios involving Stoker and Glossop (the estimable Roger Brierley), including the contesting of the former’s uncle’s will. Also gone, sadly, is the inebriated Brinkley throwing potatoes at Stoker, which surely would have been enormous fun. Instead, we concentrate on Bertie being locked aboard Stoker’s yacht in order to secure his marriage to Pauline (as per the novel), Chuffy tailing Pauline in disguise (so there’s a different/additional reason for Stoker to believe Bertie and she spent the night together, this time at a pub en route to Chufnell Hall) and …

Cally. Help us, Cally. Help Auron.

Blake's 7 3.7: Children of Auron

Roger Parkes goes a considerable way towards redeeming himself for the slop that was Voice from the Past with his second script for the series, and newcomer Andrew Morgan shows promise as a director that never really fulfilled itself in his work on Doctor Who (but was evident in Knights of God, the 1987 TV series featuring Gareth Thomas).

What a truly revolting sight.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (aka Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) (2017)
(SPOILERS) The biggest mistake the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels have made is embracing continuity. It ought to have been just Jack Sparrow with an entirely new cast of characters each time (well, maybe keep Kevin McNally). Even On Stranger Tides had Geoffrey Rush obligatorily returning as Barbossa. Although, that picture’s biggest problem was its director; Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge has a pair of solid helmers in Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, which is a relief at least. But alas, the continuity is back with a vengeance. And then some. Why, there’s even an origin-of-Jack Sparrow vignette, to supply us with prerequisite, unwanted and distracting uncanny valley (or uncanny Johnny) de-aging. The movie as a whole is an agreeable time passer, by no means the dodo its critical keelhauling would suggest, albeit it isn’t even pretending to try hard to come up with …