''Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey'' plods along for 45 minutes or so, then Death -- The Grim Reaper -- appears and the film comes to life.
The new comedy, a sequel to the surprisingly successful ''Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure'' (1989), won't exactly knock you down, but it does have some laughs, not the least of which are the closing credits -- headlines from newspapers and magazines telling us about Death and his success as an eccentricity.
''Bogus'' has its subtleties. When Bill and Ted meet Death, he is prepared to escort them to hell, but he offers the boys a way out. He will play games with them, and if they beat him, they beat going to hell. If they don't win, it's down the tubes to damnation.
You have to be an Ingmar Bergman fan or know his work to fully appreciate this. The Grim Reaper character is a genial put-on of Bergman's 1959 ''The Seventh Seal,'' in which Death played chess with someone who was about to die. You'd hardly expect this kind of reference in a film of this sort, but there it is.
The film has its share of good lines, too, if you can just manage to sit through those first 45 minutes (some of those who attended a preview screening didn't -- they walked out before the movie got going and missed the best parts).
Well, who knows. It's more or less the same one employed in the ''Terminator'' movies. The film opens in the future, at a university named for Bill and Ted. A character named DeNomolos (Joss Ackland) doesn't like the fact that a school has been named for the boys, so he sends two look-alike robots back in time to kill off the real Bill and Ted and thereby change the course of history.
''Bogus'' does a lot of this time travel. The film is almost as jumpy as ''Back To the Future II,'' which some of us are still trying to unravel. ''Bogus,'' however, is easy enough to follow, probably because we are getting used to all this cinematic warp.
It also helps to have seen the first film, but it is not suggested that you rent the video for a brush-up. It's not worth the homework. The first film, a cult hit, was about as appealing as a rash. The second installment, once we meet Death, is far more diverting, thanks to William Sadler (the villain in ''Die Hard 2'') who makes an amusingly petulant Reaper.
If you want to know what Sadler really looks like, he appears as himself -- as a suburban father -- later in the film.
''Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure'' added to the pop lexicon by giving special emphasis to words such as ''dude'' (pronounced dewde) and ''excellent.''
According to the young men, ''excellent'' translates to good, stellar, inspired. ''Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey'' is never really stellar, but for at least half its running time it is excellent.
Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter repeat as Bill and Ted and their clones. Winter still looks like Sean Penn, and Reeves, so likable in the recent ''Point Break,'' hides behind his hair in the new film, which may not be a bad idea.
George Carlin, who was in the first film, also reappears in the second. He doesn't have much to do, but it doesn't matter much -- it is Sadler, as Death, who makes this film the partial pleasure it is.
B6 ''Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey'' opens here today.
''Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey''
** Bill and Ted are once more threatened by their look-alike clones.
CAST: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, William Sadler, George Carlin
DIRECTOR: Peter Hewitt
RATING: PG (language)
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes