It's Egregious, Dudes -- `Bill & Ted' Are Funnier The Second Time Around

XX 1/2 "Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey," with Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin, William Sadler, Joss Ackland. Directed by Peter Hewitt, from a script by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon. Aurora, Crossroads, Gateway, Grand Cinemas Alderwood, Kent, Kirkland Parkplace Cinema, Parkway Plaza, United Artists Cinema, Varsity, Valley drive-in. "PG" - Parental guidance advised, due to language. ------------------------------------------------------------ The difference between the original "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" (1989) and this sequel is the difference between a freak box-office hit and an institution.

Since the cheerfully stupid valley dudes made their debut just two years ago, they've been adopted by a generation that dotes on their silliness. Sprinkled with exclamations like "awesome," "unprecedented" and "egregious," their giggly redefinition of teen language has become inescapable. They can do, or say, no wrong.

Bill and Ted's friendly incompetence has become a running gag, and it's funnier this time - perhaps because the actors have been allowed to contribute more to the script, perhaps because the movie no longer goes out of its way to turn famous historical figures into idiots, perhaps because a fresh young director is in charge.

Peter Hewitt, the British creator of a prize-winning short, "The Candy Game," took over the reins this time, and he's given "Bogus Journey" a visual wit that the first film lacked. He slyly tweaks the idea that Bill and Ted have spawned evil robot twins ("How do we even know these guys are us?"), aggressively sinks into the script's shameless borrowings from "Beetlejuice," "The Terminator" and "Stairway to Heaven," and comes up with a catchy finale that should keep most audiences watching to the end of the credit roll.

Hewitt can't quite sustain the nonsense for 90 minutes, mostly because the plot that sets the evil-twin business in motion is so stale. Unlike the time-travel structure of the first film, this one offers a mixture of "Star Trek" and "Star Wars," with Joss Ackland playing a Darth Vader type who wants Bill and Ted dead, and William Sadler as The Grim Reaper, who gets talked into playing games with the boys after they've been killed.

In place of the chess game in "The Seventh Seal," they choose Clue, Twister and other games to keep the Reaper busy and baffled. To get the attention of those still in the land of the living, Ted takes possession of his father's body ("Hey, it worked in `The Exorcist, 1 and 3!"'). When they visit both heaven and hell, they end up sympathizing with the devil ("You've got a bad rep, but you're actually OK, dude") as well as the deity ("Catch you later, God").

What both movies have going for them is the irrepressible team of Keanu Reeves (Ted) and Alex Winter (Bill), two talented actors who genuinely love these puppy-like bozos, who want to be everyone's pals.

Whether they're simultaneously proposing to their girlfriends ("Will you marry us?"), sharing the screen with Thomas Edison or J.S. Bach, recognizing the obvious ("We're dead, dude") or developing a slightly different slang for their evil twins ("I've got a full-on robot chubby"), Reeves and Winter are clearly having a wonderful time. The enthusiasm is contagious.