‘Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey’ confirms 1991 is the summer of Keanu — Ultimate Movie Year
It does have a group of fans who enjoy Bill and Ted’s particular version of sincere idiocy that has retained enough of a cult following
“Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey”
Released July 19, 1991
Directed by Peter Hewitt
Where to Watch
In the summer of 1991, Keanu Reeves was having a moment.
The young Canadian actor first came to our attention in his breakout role as Theodore Logan, one-half of the kind-hearted dim-bulb heroes, along with Alex Winter’s Bill S. Preston in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” The 1989 teenage comedy was a surprise hit. Combined with his supporting role in Ron Howard’s “Parenthood” later that year, it formed a general impression of the actor that he was a likable, earnest doofus.
Reeves began proving he’s a lot more versatile than that in 1991. Last week we talked about his lead role in Kathryn Bigelow’s “Point Break,” which surprised many people by how believable and engaging he is as an action hero (a point he would prove many times over, becoming one of the most notable action stars of his generation). This year also saw Reeves co-star in Gus Van Sant’s “My Own Private Idaho,” where he established his acting chops alongside River Phoenix as a pair of romantically entangled street hustlers. Reeves also co-starred in the video for Paula Abdul’s “Rush Rush,” a pop ballad dominating the charts all summer.
But sometimes, to move forward, you have to look back. While Reeves was setting up the pieces for the rest of his career, he also returned to the role that made him famous in the comedy sequel, “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.” Released a week after “Point Break,” “Bogus Journey” sees the usually happy-go-lucky duo feeling the pressure of living up to their potential future. Despite being destined to perform music that would unite the world, the Wyld Stallions (the band they formed with the two 15th century princesses they brought forward in time from the first movie) are having trouble making the cut for the local Battle of the Bands.
Meanwhile, in the far future, De Nomolos (Joss Ackland) stages a coup against Rufus (George Carlin) to destabilize the utopian society Bill and Ted inspired. The next stage of his plan is to send evil robot clones of Bill and Ted back in time to kill their human counterparts and take their place. And they do just that, forcing our heroes into the afterlife.
Following the success of “Excellent Adventure,” the creators were happy to return to the world of San Dimas’ most historically famous duo but also wanted to avoid a complete retread of the first movie with another time travel spotlight.
“We wanted to try to set this in a different arena,” producer Scott Kroopf told The New York Times in 1991. “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.”
The result is an amusing middle section of the movie, as Bill and Ted don’t so much as go through hell, but the cinematic depictions of hell. The guys dueling Death (William Sadler) in a series of games directly references Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal.” At the same time, the various nightmare encounters they face have roots in German expressionism, from Robert Wiene to Tim Burton.
Sadler’s take on Death is the movie’s highlight as the character tries to intimate at first, but once you get past the artifice, it becomes apparent that Death is needy and insecure. Death doesn’t realize it at first, but his salvation is meeting Bill and Ted, thanks to their eternally cheerful, friendly nature that gives him the support he’s needed for so long. Even the occasional burn from the heroes doesn’t seem to sting as much.
The movie starts to lose momentum once the boys get to heaven and then almost entirely once they return to life to defeat their evil robot counterparts. “Bogus Journey” begins with very meta-perspective and wry jokes; at one point, Bill and Ted are watching the Star Trek episode, “Arena,” which features Kirk fighting alone on an alien planet that was actually filmed at the Vasquez Rocks in California. It’s the same place the evil robots kill Bill and Ted, with shots that mirror the Star Trek episode. However, the movie’s final act introduces Station — a pair of geniuses from an ugly alien race who can only say their name and randomly combine into one being — and that subversive spirit of humor vanishes in favor of a holdover from 80s comedy.
“Personally, I find the second one the funniest because it is so strange,” screenwriter Chris Matheson said last year. “There is an unpredictability to it and ‘Bogus Journey’ feels almost reckless at times, in the comedic choices that get made. There are huge amounts of darkness in it, and yet this film is also simultaneously ridiculous. I think that second act in ‘Bogus Journey’ where they basically get killed, become ghosts, and Melvin Death, amongst other things, is excellent. Comedically for me, that is the strongest thing we wrote but then again, (it) kind of goes off the rails towards the end. A lot of people like Station the Martian, and I don’t mind him, but it is a weird out-of-left-field kind of thing that we didn’t really fully integrate into the movie.”
“Bogus Journey” opened in second place with $10.2 million but didn’t hang onto much of its audience in the following weeks with a very competitive marketplace. Even Keanu was competing against himself with “Point Break” still in theaters. “Bogus Journey” finished with $38 million, underperforming against the original’s $40.5 million take two years earlier.
Reviews were very mixed on “Bogus Journey,” with audiences and critics scoring the movie in the mid-50s on Rotten Tomatoes. However, it does have a group of fans who enjoy Bill and Ted’s particular version of sincere idiocy that has retained enough of a cult following that Reeves and Winter returned to the franchise decades later for 2020’s “Bill and Ted Face the Music.”
“‘Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey’ is a brain-dead classic,” wrote Hal Hinson for The Washington Post. “It’s like having a noggin full of Cheetos, and to enjoy it, all you have to do is click the switch in your head to the ‘off’ position and shoot the curl of dumb gags and mindless banter. This is a teenage screwball comedy with all its screws proudly loose — a masterpiece of stupid.”
There’s still some love for the second chapter of the Bill and Ted trilogy, but nowadays, Keanu is better known as an action star and sweet, real-life movie star than the airhead personality many people prescribed to him at that time. This was the summer that started to change that.
At the Box Office: “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” continues to kill at the box office, maintaining its grip on first place with a $14.9 million weekend to raise its total to $115.3 million. “Bogus Journey” nets $10.2 million on its first weekend for second place.
The “101 Dalmatians” re-release continues to perform exceptionally well for Disney, adding $7.8 million over the weekend for third place. In its second week, “Boyz n the Hood” earned $7.3 million for fourth, and the drama “Regarding Henry” closes out the top five with $6.1 million.
The only other major new release of the weekend was the Ed O’Neill comedy, “Dutch,” which tanked in 10th place with $1.9 million. Written and produced by John Hughes, “Dutch” failed to capture the magic that “Home Alone” had several months back.
In the News: Secretary of State James A. Baker negotiated a peace summit in Syria between Arabs and Israelis; Robert Gates, whose nomination to head the Central Intelligence Agency in 1987 was derailed after his role in the Iran-Contra Affair was uncovered, faced new challenges with additional disclosures coming to light after he is put forth to run the agency again by President George H.W. Bush; Paula Abdul’s month-long reign at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 with “Rush Rush” comes to an end as EMF’s dance hip hop single “Unbelievable” reaches number 1.
Next Week: “Life Stinks”
Originally published at https://www.ultimatemovieyear.com on July 16, 2021.