OK, so we’re a little behind in reviewing flicks, and this one dates from the eighties. But we thought we had to see it because it’s such an iconic classic (also, I’d used a line from it in a prior blog post; though it turns out the line wasn’t exactly in the movie).
For similar reasons we also recently viewed Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. That was quite lame and we bailed long before the end. But Bill and Ted was, well, excellent, dudes.
So Bill and Ted are these loser high school dudes, into playing music, though without proper instruments (or talent), about to flunk history, which is majorly a bummer because Ted’s dad will then pack him off to military school, in Alaska. What they need is a classic deus ex machina, which indeed is exactly what turns up, in the form of one Rufus (played by George Carlin) from the 27th century, by time machine, to save their asses, because their music-to-be is, like, the foundation of the whole future civilization; but that requires acing their final history report and thus staying together.
So Rufus sends them in another time machine (in the form of a telephone booth – showing how archaic this movie is) to round up a gang of historical biggies – Billy the Kid, Socrates, Genghis Khan, Beethoven, Napoleon, Freud, Joan of Arc (not Noah’s wife), and Lincoln – to jazz up the lads’ history report.
If this sounds pretty idiotic, it is. A highbrow cinematic experience Bill and Ted is not. But the film, and its makers, to their credit, were not trying to be something they weren’t. Yet it displays considerable panache and is genuinely funny.
Of course, the adventures through history are hokey to the max, and include some obligatory close shaves with various murderous baddies. Socrates, Lincoln, et al, seem only mildly nonplussed at being whisked into this mayhem; they cheerfully get with the program and even do their bits in Bill and Ted’s eventual history report, presented on stage in the school auditorium. The peroration of Lincoln’s Gettysburg-like address is the immortal line, “Party on, Dudes!”
Plausibility is somewhat lacking. At least they didn’t have Socrates and Genghis speaking English.
With which Bill and Ted themselves are none too fluent. The film has some fun with their ignorant mispronunciations, like “Frood” for Freud and “So-craits” for Socrates. But the joke is on us when the latter corrects them and says his name not as “SOCK-ra-teez” but “So-CRAH-tess” – probably more authentic.
The movie also has fun with the paradoxes of time travel. Early on, Bill and Ted meet their time-traveling selves of a few hours hence. But later, when they duly do arrive back at that scene, they don’t seem to remember it; yet of course they deliver the same lines they’d already heard.
Better yet, at a critical juncture, the lads need Ted’s father’s keys. But he’d lost them. Well, no problem – they can just go, in the time machine, back to get the keys before they went missing. However, they’re running late, and realize they can do it afterwards – go back later, get the keys, and hide them behind a signboard where they can find them now. And sure enough, they look behind the signboard, and there are the keys.
But they’d better remember to go back later and put them there. The film ends without telling us whether they did. But, of course, they must have.