Bill and Ted's exceptional excellence

July 17, 1991|By Karen Schoemer | Karen Schoemer,New York Times

TWO YEARS ago, Bill and Ted were just a couple of regular high school dudes living in Southern California.

They dressed in typical teen-age style: jeans, baggy shorts, high-top sneakers, Van Halen T-shirts, inside-out sweatshirts with ink stains on the front.

They liked to do normal teen-age things: play guitar, go to the mall, dream of being famous rock stars.

As with a lot of teen-agers, Bill and Ted really weren't too interested in school, especially history class. In fact, they were, as Bill said, "in danger of flunking most heinously."

Then one day a guy from the future delivered them a time machine in the shape of a phone booth, so they could go back in history and meet the people they were being tested on.

Bill and Ted stood in amazement as the phone booth touched down in the parking lot of a local convenience store. "Whoa," they said in unison. "Whoa."

Today, Bill and Ted are on their way to being cultural icons. "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure," released by Orion Pictures in 1989, was a $9-million sleeper that grossed more than $40 million at the box office and went on to become a success on video.

Bill and Ted also have their own Saturday morning cartoon show, in which the pair flit back and forth in time to solve personal crises, like how to get to the store to buy the new Iron Maiden CD.

They have their own breakfast cereal, Bill and Ted's Excellent Cereal -- A Most Awesome Breakfast Adventure, which comes with a free Dial-a-Dude card for listing phone numbers. The Fox network will launch a "Bill and Ted" live-action adventure series, starring Evan Richards and Christopher Kennedy in the fall.

And in "Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey," the Orion sequel that opens on Friday, the pair visit heaven and hell and attempt to answer the question, "What is the meaning of life?"

In light of their recent successes, four members of the "Bill and Ted" film team -- Alex Winter, who portrays Bill S. Preston, Esq.; Keanu Reeves, who plays Ted (Theodore) Logan; Scott Kroopf, who produced both "Excellent Adventure" and "Bogus Journey," and Peter Hewitt, the director of the sequel -- endeavored to explain some of the Zeitgeist, history and incredibly stupid humor behind these two most excellent dudes.

"When we first were casting Bill and Ted, we made a choice," says Kroopf. "You could play Bill and Ted as long-haired outcast types, or you could play them as accessible cuddly types. When we got Alex and Keanu, we said, 'Let's give the audience a chance to really relate to these guys.' Everyone felt that Bill and Ted were their friends, as opposed to those weird guys over there."

Reeves says: "In the sequel, Bill and Ted are pretty deadbeat. Their band isn't going anywhere, they're out of high school, they work in a place called Pretzels 'n' Cheese, the girls won't kiss them. Everything's not quite happening."

Why bond to these dudes?

"I think kids connected with the movie because they didn't feel like it was making fun of teen-age outcasts," says Kroopf. "It was pTC really saying, 'Hey, these are two guys who go on this outrageous adventure and have this always refreshing, unpredictable response to everything.' The most epic things, they're totally cool about; the most mundane things, they get all worked up about. So just watching them react to anything is great fun."

Are Bill and Ted funny or just stupid?

"As much as there's some really broad, light, silly stuff, there's a second level of humor that is very hip and sophisticated," says Kroopf, adding that the scriptwriters, Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, "wrote with a very serious mind. They didn't set out to write a silly slapstick comedy; they set out to write something with two endearing characters in the tradition of Abbott and Costello and Laurel and Hardy. There's a level of literary jokes running through the first one, and philosophical jokes through the new one. It's that feeling of having something that can operate on several levels at once -- a good, fun ride in terms of a comic adventure, and then satiric or parody-style humor as an undercurrent."

Is the sequel going to be lame?

"It's not as innocent and easy as the other one," says Reeves. "It's more complicated, and it's got some trippy images in it. It's not violent, really -- we're not swearing, and it's not that dark -- but there is some weird stuff. . . . "

Kroopf says: "We wanted to try to set this in a different arena. We wanted to give Alex and Keanu some acting challenges, so it wasn't like we just run them through the movie and they say 'excellent' and 'party on' every other word. So we bagged the idea of doing another time-travel movie, and the first idea we came up with was having Bill and Ted go through heaven and hell."

What happened to the original title, "Bill and Ted Go to Hell"?

"The problem was -- and it was

a real one -- we couldn't advertise on TV until after 9 o'clock," says Kroopf.

Are Bill and Ted corrupting our youth?

"One time when we were filming out in L.A., these two kids came up," says Reeves. "And one guy was short, and his friend was tall. One was wearing a hat; the other wasn't. He goes, 'Hey, man, yeah, we're starting our own band. We really dig it.' It was amazing. They were total Bill and Ted people."

Winter says: "That way of life has spread like a disease across the world. All you have to do is hang out at the Sherman Oaks Galleria Mall for half an hour to get a handful of them. You go to Paris, kids are skating around in brightly colored clothes and saying, 'Bon soir, dude.' I'm not saying it's because of Bill and Ted; it's just the way the world is evolving."

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