Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
11Apr/180

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)

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They've gone through history, but nothing's changed.  Bill and Ted are still struggling to bring their band the success they've been told it will have.  Their lapse into self-doubt parallels a malevolent schemer from the future who sends robot duplicates of Bill and Ted into the past to kill their band before they can be successful.  Pete Hewitt directs Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, with the screenplay written by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, and stars Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves.

As I write today, April 11th of 2018, there are only two Bill & Ted films in existence.  The 1st, Excellent Adventure, I've watched at minimum 42 times.  The 2nd, Bogus Journey, I've only seen twice - once a shade over fifteen years ago and the second just under a week ago.  I will, no doubt, be watching Excellent Adventure many more times.  The two trips I've had with Bogus Journey will suffice, as the first viewing underwhelmed and the second underwhelmed but with the added benefit of knowing why.

Bogus Journey suffers from the same issue the Harold and Kumar sequels do, a fundamental misunderstanding that the humor comes not from the outlandish situations but the earnest friendship between the leads.  Excellent Adventure works so well because every action or story beat is or sets up a joke that has something to do with Bill and Ted's sincere wish to better themselves.  Their goals in Bogus Journey are to get back to life so that they can win the battle of the bands.  It's their next logical step, not a big character building moment.

Sharp sets and photography inspired by German Expressionism is more technically inspired than the previous film but not to any great affect.

The worst aspect of Bogus Journey is how the plot is structured to make Bill and Ted secondary to their own story.  I missed the tight pacing of Excellent Adventure right away as director Pete Hewitt takes over from Excellent Adventure's Stephen Herek.  Hewitt spends far too long setting up the plot, leaving us to plod along a bland future filled with fashion inspired by foam flotation devices, and the villain Chuck De Nomolos (Joss Ackland) is so generic that once he sends the Evil Robot Bill and Evil Robot Ted back in time he only appears in quick messages to keep the plot moving along.

If there's one thing Bogus Adventure succeeds at, it's fostering a greater appreciation for the performances of Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves.  They teetered the line between doofy and eloquent so beautifully in Excellent Adventure and in Bogus Journey veer into full obnoxious territory that is effectively grating if not that funny.  Sure, there are a few ongoing gags that work, like the way the Evil Robot Us-es (as the real Bill and Ted refer to them) have a vendetta against cats starting with them trying to squash one with their time machine booth.  But when the Evil Robot Us-es try to rape Bill and Ted's girlfriends Elizabeth (Annette Azcuy) and Joanna (Sarah Trigger) the fun goes out of the room.  I don't think any topic is off-limits for comedy but the writers better have some damn good material and dialogue like, "You see, we used to be pussweeds but now we're metal. So get over here and put out!" is too reminiscent of real thoughts going through the heads of vile men to have much comedic heft.

Bogus Journey also has the curious problem of looking "better" than Excellent Adventure but not to its benefit.  When returning screenwriters Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon drag Bill and Ted to hell it gives Hewitt an opportunity to embrace some German expressionism in the visuals.  It's striking, sure, but so aggressively angular that the eternally sweet Bill and Ted look completely out-of-place. The same goes for the expanded special effects, like when the Evil Robot Us-es pull the skin on their heads back to reveal their robotic innards.  Bill and Ted are a poor fit for body horror, and despite how admirably Winter and Reeves push to make the Evil Robot Us-es mean, their twisting visage is impressive only for the effect and not the storytelling.

Where Bogus Journey succeeds it does so by embracing the sincerity of Excellent Adventure.  Most viewers cite the scenes with Death (William Sadler) as the best in Bogus Journey and they're absolutely correct.  The trick to the scenes with Death is not the way Hewitt consciously takes the mick out of Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (complete with ominous silhouette of Death in the background), but how Death - once humiliated in defeat - tries to get an up on someone, anyone, so that he can feel better about himself.  It leads to moments like Death apologizing to God for being Bill and Ted's servant because Death got "melvined" (wedgie) and desperately seeking Bill and Ted's approval for mundane tasks like obtaining batteries.

Death's frustrated struggle to first beat Bill and Ted, then gain their approval, taps back into the sincere warmth of the first film.

The rest of the successful humor comes from the genuine good-natured hearts of Bill and Ted.  I love how they take their seemingly eternal fall into hell as an excuse to play 20 Questions, or how they're such good friends that their engagement proposals to their respective girlfriends are almost identical.  I also remain a total sucker for their unflappable nature in the face of the impossible, asking Satan himself, "How's it going, Beelzebub?"  Heck, they even take time to compliment the derriere of their alien friend.

Bill and Ted's greatest nemesis used to be their fear of growing up without their dreams coming true.  Now it's finding out a way to best a generic villain and evil versions of themselves.  Beyond the sparse high points, Bogus Journey is every bit the overblown high-concept comedy that Excellent Adventure avoided complete with terrible (if era-appropriate) rap song. "Less talk, more rock" should have been the guiding principle of Bogus Journey, not the convoluted death to rebirth story it became.

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Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991)

Directed by Pete Hewitt.
Screenplay written by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon.
Starring Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves.

Posted by Andrew

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