WFTB Score: 8/20
The plot: Despite securing a totally excellent future, would-be legends Bill and Ted still find the path to rock glory a tricky one. Their job is made no easier by robot versions of themselves, sent from the 27th Century and programmed to bump off their real counterparts, changing the future to the liking of their evil creator, Chuck De Nomolos; but Bill and Ted discover that death is only the beginning of the journey.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure hung around the studio vaults for a while before getting released, so its subsequent success may have come as a surprise to executives. What should surprise nobody is that with the first film making money, a sequel should appear while the names of Bill and Ted were still fresh and their fans still young enough to appreciate them. And speed seems to have been of the essence: despite sharing the same writers as the original (Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon), Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey feels like a hastily cobbled-together piece, taking ideas from one or more idling scripts and reworking them to fit into Bill and Ted’s world. I am only surmising here, but if that is what happened then excuses can be made for the film‘s disjointed plot. If the script was freshly written, then the directions it takes are strange indeed.
So, what is that plot? Bogus Journey begins in the idyllic world of 27th Century San Dimas California, where everyone walks round in ugly foam clothing and Rufus (George Carlin) continues to bring historical personages from the past to enlighten students. Crashing noisily into the scenario, evil former gym teacher De Nomolos (Joss Ackland), backed up by a black-clad army, explains that he is sending robotic versions of Bill and Ted to the late 20th Century to kill the ‘real them’ and disrupt the Battle of the Bands competition that the boys’ band Wild Stallyns have entered.
Even without this threat hanging over them, things are not going well for Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) in the present day: they have no money, still cannot play their guitars, and Ted still has the threat of military academy hanging over him. On the plus side, their 15th Century princess girlfriends do agree to marry them. Unfortunately, not long after the proposals, the robots arrive and dispatch our heroes into the hands of the Grim Reaper, who follows the fleeing pair through Hell and condemns them to the eternal afterlife – unless they challenge and defeat him in a game of their choosing.
Bogus Journey is to be congratulated for doing something different from its predecessor, as so many sequels are content to slavishly follow what came before. However, whilst ditching nearly all of the time travel, the filmmakers have also ditched the dumb but exuberant sense of fun that Excellent Adventure brought to the screen. Even if it is only temporary and doesn’t stop Bill and Ted going about their business, killing off the leads does put something of a downer on the film, especially as Robot Bill and Ted are more convincingly nasty than funny.
Likewise, when the pair are trapped in their personal Hells, the figures of Bill’s slavering Granny and Ted’s Easter Bunny are disturbing rather than amusing. And I don’t ‘get’ the Star Trek joke, if that’s what it is. Is the use of the same bit of rock that William Shatner once ran up amusing? I don’t know, but I do get the feeling that somewhere on the journey, the comedy got lost.
An honourable exception to this is the figure of Death, played by William Sadler. Ashen-faced and imposing, once bested in his challenges* (Battleships, Cluedo, Twister and so on) he follows Bill and Ted like a meek child as they seek help to rescue the Princesses and their futures. Whether in the foreground or background, Sadler is always funny when he is on-screen, easily outshining Winter and Reeves who may well have considered themselves rather old for this sort of thing by 1991. There are other good moments, such as the longest fall in movie history and Kiss’s cover of the catchy God Gave Rock and Roll to You II, but in general the good is outweighed by the odd, and when God (yes!) leads Bill and Ted to the Martian scientist(s) Station to create ‘good robot uses’ the viewer is fully entitled to ask ‘Where the hell has that come from?’ It should also be said that whilst most of the film’s effects are okay – the robots and Station are convincing enough – some of the ones where Bill and Ted communicate from the ‘Other Side’ are pretty ropey.
Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey takes the pleasant stupidity of Excellent Adventure and tries to create something more significant; whilst it touches base with the phrases and mannerisms of the first film – the air guitar riffs are overused – the journey is a much darker affair. Lacking the original’s light touch, it also lacks its charm, momentum and coherence. And while there is entertainment to be had, the Grim Reaper in particular proving less than grim, you occasionally wish that Bill and Ted would just get on with it, a feeling you never got with the pair’s debut. Not completely bogus, then, but a bit non-non heinous all the same.
NOTES: Evidently a nod to Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, and Heaven looks quite a lot like it does in A Matter of Life and Death. Clever, yes, but even if you get the allusions, it doesn’t make them all that enjoyable.