Death is the best part of 'Bill and Ted'

Other than inducing America's movie critics -- except, ahem, this one -- to write leads in bad valleyboyese, "Bill and Ted's Bogus Adventure" may be most notable for making a star out of neither Bill (Alex Winter or Keanu Reeves) nor Ted (Keanu Reeves or Alex Winter) but out of William Sadler.

William who? Well, you know this guy. He's played authoritarian Aryan scum in several films, most notably in "DieHard 2," where he was the muscle-bound nude aikido expert colonel who blew up an airliner solely to tick off Bruce Willis.


But in "Bill and Ted," he plays Ingmar Bergman's Death, the grim-faced reaper with the scythe and the hood and the attitude, who goes around engineering appointments in Samarra with kids from San Dimas, Calif. Except that, like many of us, Death secretly wants to be in Show Biz.

Somewhat in the game way Leslie Nielsen has managed to turn the hopelessly square Lt. Frank Drebin into a cultural icon, Sadler manages to make the Reaper a likable chap. He's terrifically funny in an offbeat way, whether getting his butt kicked at Twister by Ted, trying to wheedle his way into the first camera position or sucking up pathetically to God.


Alas, his brilliant performance is somewhat swaddled in a less than brilliant movie. Winter and Reeves have the valley boy schtick down pat, though it's somewhat less amusing exactly because it's somewhat more prolonged. Plotwise, the film is at least as ambitious as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, being nothing less than a tour of creation, from heaven to hell with San Dimas thrown in for a laugh or two.

'Bill and Ted's Bogus Adventure'

Starring Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter.

Directed by Pete Hewitt.

Released by Orion.

Rated PG-13.

** 1/2