Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey (199)

Director: Peter Hewitt

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, William Sadler, Joss Ackland, Pam Grier, George Carlin

So much has been accomplished through history which once seemed just out of our reach. What would our ancestors have to say if the technological leaps and bounds we’ve made since their time, the ones which we now take for granted, were suddenly revealed to them? It would certainly challenge everything they had come to accept as fact if they saw that the impossible was indeed possible. Similarly, certain fantastic concepts such as time travel, while entertaining as fiction, are still looked upon simply as that. Consider the most improbable of beliefs, that of an afterlife. There would be one way to show that such a thing even exists, and that is to make a return trip to this plane of existence after having crossed over into the next… something no one outside of religious text has ever been proven to have accomplished. Our two dimwitted heroes from “Excellent Adventure” already breached the time barrier with the greatest of ease, so the next step was to have them go to Hell and back.

In 2691, the duo of Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) and their music are the subject of great reverance and awe, and serve as the basis of the peaceful society the world of the future enjoys. Sadly, not everyone in the 27th century is as thrilled with how the world has been shaped. One of these dissidents is Chuck De Nomolos (Joss Ackland). Known for his prowess as an athlete in his younger years, De Nomolos now has more diabolical ambitions in mind. He means to kill Bill and Ted and take their place as the person everyone on Earth admires and respects. To accomplish this, he has constructed evil robot duplicates which he will send back to the year 1991, before Bill and Ted’s band Wyld Stallyns has the chance to promote global enlightenment.

At this point in their lives, Bill and Ted can barely afford the apartment they share, much less figure out how to become who they are destined to be. They’ve proposed marriage to their girlfriends Joanna and Elizabeth, the former princesses from Medieval England whom they met and fell and love with in the previous movie (now played by different actresses), but all they can give their brides-to-be are cheap plastic rings which may or may not come from Cracker Jack boxes. The boys hope their luck will change with an upcoming Battle of the Bands contest, to be hosted by Mrs. Wardroe (Pam Grier). What they weren’t counting on was another visit from themselves. Like before, Ted is skeptical about the sincerity/authenticity of their counterparts but relents once Bill talks him out of it. This time, Ted was right to second-guess “himself.” Echoing the “Star Trek” rerun playing on Bill and Ted’s TV when they arrive (the episode entitled “Arena,” FYI) the robots take Bill and Ted to Vasquez Rocks, where they push our protagonists to their deaths. It is at this point that the PG-rating rears its head, as Bill and Ted leave behind bloodless, clean-looking corpses.

Almost immediately, the boys encounter the Grim Reaper (William Sadler). After first presenting himself in a very serious manner, all of the threat is quickly removed when the boys find an amusing yet painful (for him) way of eluding Death. They’ll meet again soon. Still in spirit form, Bill and Ted try to reach out to family members, with nothing resembling positive results. Intruding upon a seance, they are mistaken for an evil presence and are cast into Hell. There, they find that the domain of Satan does not look anything like how it was depicted on various album covers they’d collected. Each encountering their own personal hell, Bill and Ted are forced to dodge Bill’s grandmother, the Easter Bunny, and Colonel Oats of the Alaskan Military Academy. I’m merely speculating at this point, but I figure that Col. Oats might have been so named for actor Warren Oates, whose drill sergeant character from “Stripes” is one of the highlights of that 1981 comedy.

It finally comes down to Bill and Ted having no choice but to challenge the Reaper to a contest, determining whether they remain in Hell or return to life, which the Reaper points out has never been done. What follows is easily the most amusing sequence of “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.” In a parody of Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” (in which Death is challenged to a game of chess) Bill and Ted choose Battleship. When they win, the Grim Reaper shows what a sore loser he is by insisting that the contest be extended to a best 2 out of 3 scenario. Losing at Clue, he ups the stakes to 3 out of 5. Electric Football is up next. Bill and Ted win for a third time and… well, you know what’s coming. Finally, after Bill and Ted are victorious in a game of Twister, Death bends to their will.

Making a brief stop in Heaven on their way back to their lives in San Dimas, California, Bill and Ted locate the Martian scientist known as Station, whose aid they enlist in the construction of (albeit crude) heroic robot versions of themselves. That’s director Peter Hewitt in a cameo as the cigarette smoker in the hardware store to whom the Grim Reaper says in passing, “See you real soon!” Arriving at the Battle of the Bands, Bill and Ted stop the evil robots, outwit De Nomolos, save their girlfriends and give the perfomance they were always meant to deliver.

In almost every respect, “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey” is superior to the first film. This is surprising, not only because “Excellent Adventure” itself is so good, but because it is so rare to find a sequel to a comedy classic that doesn’t leave you wondering why they even bothered. The best thing about “Bogus Journey” is William Sadler as the Grim Reaper. With Sadler usually being cast in intimidating or authoritative roles, the Reaper seems like a natural extension of this, and so it is as startling as it is funny when his buffoonish side is revealed.

While the first film was quite clearly a child of the 1980’s, “Bogus Journey” has more of a timeless quality to it (with the exception of the fact that one can now believably call the house they just left with the aid of a cell phone). Once again, music plays a big role, bigger now because of the Battle of the Bands contest. Instead of merely paying lip service to other musical acts as in the first film, “Bogus Journey” sports a cameo appearance by Jim Martin of Faith No More, and Primus is one of the featured bands competing against Wyld Stallyns in the final act. The soundtrack includes “The Perfect Crime” by Faith No More, “Go to Hell” by Megadeth, and “Battle Stations” by Winger, among others. The best is saved for last with a real showstopper in “God Gave Rock n’ Roll to You II” by KISS, a heavier cover of Argent’s 1973 original which represents KISS’s best work other than “War Machine.”

I could leave things right there, but that would mean having to dismiss the ongoing rumors of a third film. Allegedly to be directed by Dean Parisot (“Galaxy Quest,” “RED 2”), the movie would be about Bill and Ted, now in their 40’s, aging and dejected and still searching for that one song that’s supposed to change the world. Honestly, I don’t know how to feel about it. Part of me would like to see them try it, to see Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter team up once again (especially since Winter is mostly done with acting these days). But I also worry that anything a “Bill and Ted 3” presents might tarnish the ending we got with “Bogus Journey.” The late George Carlin’s presence as Rufus will also be missed. If the movie ever does make it out of developmental hell (ironic, no?), then I’ll almost certainly go see it, as surely as any “Star Wars” fan will go see the new J.J. Abrams movie later this year. Regardless of what happens with “Bill and Ted 3,” “Bogus Journey” will remain… the same as its predecessor… as a fond memory from my childhood which I will continue to revisit time and time again.

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