A shoddy but personable teen comedy easily outgunned by its later sequel, but still managing the not inconsiderable tasks of making Keanu Reeves a star, turning air-guitar twiddles into a universal motif for, well, something cool, and reinterpreting the pronunciation of Socrates as “So-Crates.” It’s a lot less funny than you remember, but has charm in spades, so let it roll.
The central shtick is that California’s lowest achievers (they think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife), who only dream of hitting it big with their rock band The Wyld Stallions, mix it up with the great thinkers of history. Care of some dilapidated special effects (the budget was paltry), this inept duo of “dudes” make-nice with Napoleon, Genghis-Kahn, Lincoln, Beethoven, Freud (the “Frood-dude”) and, of course, So-Crates, co-opting them back to the future for the big presentation cum rock show.
It is widely considered, and mostly true, that Reeves has played Ted Logan for his entire career. His trademark flabbergasted lunk routine was born out of Ted’s blissful, floppy headed ignorance. Winter matches him lummox for lummox. Their partnership, with its threads of affection, is the best thing about the film. And their Valley-patter of backward pointing sentences and goofball delivery has become the Lingua Franca for idiot-comedy being bastardised by everyone from Brendan Fraser to Wayne’s World.
This film is seminal (snark!). Its jokes, however, are scattershot and intermittently funny, shouting either “bodacious” or “excellent” a lot. The general air of chaos is not wholly welcome.
Still, how can you be too curmudgeonly about a film whose central philosophy is, “to be excellent to one another”? Party on.