Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure was a surprise hit, not only doing well in theaters but inspiring multiple new streams of revenue everywhere from Saturday morning television to the cereal shelves of grocery stores.  Thus, a sequel wasn’t just likely: it was mandatory.  That said, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey is pretty surprising as far as sequels go because it displays a willful weirdness on all levels that would be unimaginable by modern b&tbj-pos“play it safe” standards of sequelization.

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey begins with Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanus Reeves) backsliding into slackerdom after the momentous events of the first film, struggling to get their band in working order for a big Battle Of The Bands gig.  Their troubles intensify when evil robot versions of themselves are sent to kill them by future-dwelling villain De Nomolos (Joss Ackland).  Bill and Ted find themselves thrust into the afterlife, where they have to contend with the Grim Reaper (Bill Sadler) and visit both Heaven and Hell to find a way back to the living world and fulfill their destiny.

This sequel is often as amusing as its predecessor but has a totally different feel. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey takes a lot of chances, with screenwriters Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon doubling down on conceptual ambitions and sheer weirdness (the finale involves four different versions of Bill and Ted as well as a pair of twin midget creature scientists that only say the word “Station!”).  The storyline isn’t as carefully worked out or satisfying as the first film, a reflection of the fact that its third act was radically reworked during production.

That said, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey still has plenty of rewards for viewers willing to roll with its eccentricities.  There are tons of great setpieces, including a scene where Bill and Ted have to confront their fears in the bowels of Hell and an extended bit where Bill and Ted have to play the Grim Reaper in a variety of board games, only for the Reaper to reveal himself to be a bad sport who demands endless rematches.  Director Peter Hewitt shows a Tim Burton-esque imagination with offbeat angles and tricky camera moves, adding a new visual spirit to the proceedings and the Heaven and Hell sets are oft-stunning.  Just as worthy of note are the Kevin Yagher makeup effects, including a creepy grandma and a nasty Easter bunny.

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Finally, it must be said that Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey gets away with its wacky style thanks to the performances.  Winter and Reeves have fun playing multiple versions of Bill and Ted, maintaining the comic timing and slapstick physicality across them all but bringing a menacing tone to Evil Bill and Ted that adds surprising edge.  They also get a player who matches their sense of invention in Sadler, who essentially plays the Reaper a Hardy-esque straight man to the duo.  Elsewhere, Ackland has fun sending up his villain performances from this era and there’s even a brief turn from Pam Grier as the manager of Bill and Ted’s band.

In short, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey isn’t as focused or perfectly calibrated as the first film but it has a bizarre sense of invention and a willingness to avoid sequel-style retread moments that makes it worth watching for fans of the original film.