Finding the afterlife totally non-heinous with “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey” and cursing the name of John Hughes and his wretched “Dutch.”
Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
Nutshell: The evil De Nomolos (Joss Ackland) has stepped out of the shadows to kill Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves), sending evil robot versions of the lovable dopes back in time, preventing them from achieving world peace with their band Wyld Stallyns. Now dead, Bill and Ted wind through Heaven and Hell, searching for a chance to return to Earth and save the day. Tagging along is the Grim Reaper (William Sadler) and Martian scientists Station, who assist the heroes in their fight to reclaim the future, protect the babes, and perfect their tunes.
1991: Being a teenager, a burgeoning metalhead, and a disciple of 1989’s “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” the excitement of “Bogus Journey” wasn’t lost on me. I was raring to see the picture, delighted with another opportunity to spend time with these endearing idiots and their eternal quest to bring Wyld Stallyns to the world. There wasn’t a better match of moviegoer and movie.
“Bogus Journey” belongs in a rare sequel classification where the creators clearly didn’t have any plans for a part two. “Excellent Adventure” was a contained motion picture, delivering the antics of the titular heroes with a finality that didn’t easily lend itself to further features. When the film became a box office hit (after a few years in distribution limbo), a second round of “Bill & Ted” was quickly ordered up, but where could it go? What was left to say? Nothing, really. This unexpected sequel opportunity permitted screenwriters Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon to take the premise anywhere. And that’s exactly where they went.
Being at a more receptive age for the anarchy of “Bogus Journey,” the picture blew my mind. I was stunned by the feature, practically receiving windburn from the gale force creativity blasting from the screen. “Bogus Journey” isn’t truly a sequel, it’s a blizzard of ideas and references slapped together into a superball of a motion picture, bounced around with palpable glee by director Peter Hewitt. It was nuts, merging Ingmar Bergman parodies with Faith No More cameos, crossing life and death, yet it was exactly the proper course to take at the time, with the commodification of Bill and Ted extending to cartoon programs and breakfast cereals. The sequel returned a sense of devilish fun to the series, which is perhaps why it didn’t drum up much business at the multiplex despite prime summer release real estate and the overall momentum of the franchise.
It’s almost as if Matheson and Solomon wanted to destroy the brand name with a creation so odd and off-putting, Bill and Ted would swiftly return to the cult realm from which they were born.
I adored this movie in 1991, which placed ninth on my Top Ten of the year.
2011: I was a little afraid to find out how “Bogus Journey” plays these days. Without my youthful sincerity to protect me, I feared the film would die at first sight. Granted, much of the movie is dated, from costumes to the multiple usage of “fag” as a taunt, but the larger portrait of madness is as exquisite as it was 20 years ago. How something like this made its way through the studio system and into multiplexes is one of the great moviemaking mysteries.
The wily experimentation of “Bogus Journey” is its most endearing characteristic. Instead of loading up the time-traveling phone booth and interacting with around round of bewildered historical figures, the sequel attempts to master another excellent adventure: death. The script is a darkly comic creation that brings together the dim-bulb humor of the original picture with a rather vivid psychological plunge that finds our heroes in Hell battling their worst fears. Solomon and Matheson run wild with the plot, conjuring a phantasmagoria of creatures, robots, life, death, and evil Easter bunnies, dragging Bill and Ted through a series of challenges that make the first film look like a Disney picture. It’s never mean, but the execution isn’t afraid to bite between broadly comic events, giving kids a more challenging ride for their allowance money.
Faced with the impossible task of following “Excellent Adventure,” the screenwriters didn’t even try to replicate the formula. Instead, they went bonkers, which is exactly why this film is such a scream.
Lightning paced and openly destructive, the picture is a carefree creation, observing Bill and Ted kill Bill and Ted over control of the future. The science isn’t quite there, but it’s nice to find the cast returning to the scene of the crime, with Reeves and Winter contributing a full-bodied, air-guitar-strumming effort in multiple roles (Bill even confronts his heinous grandmother in Hell, also played by Winter). Their screen energy is just perfect, selling the madness with traditional stupidity, while encouraging the cluelessness of the characters further, just to keep matters successfully absurd once the afterlife enters the picture. The boys are magic.
Making an exquisite impression is Sadler, showing plucky comedic chops as the perennially flustered Grim Reaper. Working his ghoulish make-up in a hilarious series of reactions, Sadler is a joy as Death, an imposing figure of mortality who can’t seem to beat Bill and Ted at board games or sense an oncoming melvin. Poor guy. Without Rufus around (the late George Carlin merely cameos here), Grim Reaper picks up the slack in the support department.
With a soundtrack containing hits from Megadeth, Faith No More, and Kiss, the return of Amy Stock-Poynton as Missy (“I mean, Mom”), and an ultimate showdown at a Battle of the Bands contest overseen by a hair-metalesque Pam Grier, there’s not a lot to object to here. It’s an anarchic motion picture, but reveals triumphant originality -- a sublime daredevil of a film that authentically assumes a great deal of risk. Not many sequels can lay claim to that.
Of course, there’s talk now of a third “Bill & Ted” picture, picking up the boys in their forties, still trying to pen that perfect Wyld Stallyns song. Granted, I’m a sucker for resuscitated franchises, and it would be a treat to watch Reeves and Winter return to these characters, battling against whatever Solomon and Matheson could possibly dream up for a third round of San Dimas adventure. Another film would be great. It would be a joy. It would be most excellent.
Nutshell: Working-class hero Dutch (Ed O’Neill) is looking to impress his girlfriend (JoBeth Williams), volunteering to drive her son Doyle (Ethan Randall) from his boarding school in Georgia to Chicago. A spoiled, mean pre-teen with serious abandonment issues, Doyle hates everything about Dutch, doing anything he can to make the trip as miserable as possible. Enduring a string of calamities, the opposites learn to bond on the road, with the struggle to travel north allowing Doyle to drop his guard and enjoy Dutch’s uncouth ways.
1991: As mentioned in the “Only the Lonely” entry, the summer of 1991 was the transition year for John Hughes. “Dutch” was his second film of the season, a picture he produced and scripted -- possibly ghost directed as well, considering all the Hughesisms found in the picture (the actual credit goes to Peter Faiman of “Crocodile Dundee” fame).
Being a superfan of Hughes, “Dutch” was a crushing disappointment. Here was a mix of “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” and “Uncle Buck,” and Hughes just bottoms out with a derivative, joyless mess of crummy ideas. With Hughes still in his fertile PG-13 frame of mind, the utter failure of the picture was befuddling, dragging the charismatic O’Neill down with him. Al Bundy, John Hughes, and a smart-aleck kid. I never saw it coming. Afterwards, I wish I never saw it at all.
2011: “Dutch” is a terrible movie, but it reveals such an extraordinary effort for limited results. The picture looks superb, with evocative winter cinematography capturing the rugged, slushy feel of interstate travel. There’s also a dedication to physical comedy, with Hughes dreaming up opportunities for Dutch and Doyle to interact silently for the camera, suggesting the filmmakers were looking to channel a Chaplin picture, only instead of a cane, Dutch brandishes nudie playing cards. It’s not a completely lazy effort, just a completely inert one, with nothing in the story department sticking as intended. Hughes appears to love these characters, but he’s serving a platter of rancid gags, losing interest as the story lurches from one roadside encounter to the next.
It’s a little easier to spot the programmed quality of the picture these days. “Dutch” comes across as an emptied wastebasket of rejected ideas slapped together in a road movie format, focusing on hijinks and the thawing ice between the total opposites. There are stabs at class tension and broken home heartbreak, but laughs are the goal here and “Dutch” fails miserably. There’s no sense of timing to enjoy and while O’Neill is eager to prove himself, he’s forced to mug his way in and out of scenes, struggling to drum up some screen magic with an unenthusiastic Randall, who has the difficult job of making a rotten, arrogant child a convincingly thoughtful human being by the final act. He fails. Doyle isn’t an organically redemptive character. He’s a pest with a sitcom arc of personality rehabilitation. It’s tough to root for a kid who would better off buried in the nearest snow bank.
“Dutch” hits a routine of truck stops and diners to bridge between shenanigans, one incident involves the pair picked up by two hookers -- one ends up stealing Dutch’s wallet after shooting lotion down his throat (at least I hope that’s lotion), while Doyle gets his first boner with the other girl after falling asleep on her breasts. It’d be amusing if the scene wasn’t endless, without any meaty ideas for jokes outside of the lotion bit.
Here’s some nightmare fuel: O’Neill’s mouth from the scene.
The guys eventually work their way into a homeless shelter, permitting Hughes to hose the film down with feel-good juice, observing Doyle’s rebirth as a positive person after a lecture from a destitute woman. Ah, the poor. They have all the answers.
It’s heartbreaking to watch this picture stumble. It’s such a waste of time and talent. “Dutch” isn’t the worst thing to emerge from the Hughes factory, but it’s a sour note during a rather significant creative period.
Coming next week…
Christian Slater and the boys play dress up.
Kathleen Turner looks to kick off her own detective franchise.
And Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder bid adieu to their careers.