Stephen Herek is a director who excels at comedy, and the key to much of his success lies in his penchant for interesting, three-dimensional characters who transcend comic stereotypes and sincerely draw the sympathy of viewers. Whether his characters are as exceedingly dumb as the protagonists of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure or as painfully sincere as the singer from Rock Star, Herek has a way of making audiences care about them that renders the humor in his films so effective; in the hands of a lesser director, the same characters could easily fail to make such emotional connections with viewers.
After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, the San Antonio native eventually landed a position as a production assistant for Roger Corman's New World Pictures. Herek gradually gained experience with film editing during his time at New World, and with the release of the 1982 film Android, he received his first onscreen credit as assistant editor. It was only a matter of time until Herek finally decided to step behind the camera, and with the release of the 1986 Gremlins knock-off Critters, he successfully drew the attention of audiences away from the source material by means of a clever script and some memorably nasty little varmints. Three years later, Herek managed to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump with the definitive '80s comedy Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. In addition to launching the career of actor Keanu Reeves, the film also produced a successful franchise that would yield both a sequel and a popular Saturday morning cartoon. Herek's third feature, the curiously titled Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead, scored yet another hit at the box office and went on to live a healthy life on the home video market. A subsequent association with Disney in the early '90s yielded the popular family comedy The Mighty Ducks. Although the film was essentially little more than a hockey-flavored Bad News Bears, the characters had heart, and numerous sequels were soon to follow.
After surprising audiences with the relatively unsuccessful The Three Musketeers in 1993, Herek opted for a notable change of pace by stepping behind the camera for the straight-faced drama Mr. Holland's Opus. Starring Richard Dreyfuss as a reluctant high-school music teacher who feels that his life is slowly fading into nothing and that he will never leave a lasting mark in the world of music, the film offered a memorably emotional performance by Dreyfuss and connected with audiences as few of Herek's previous films had managed to do. Following mixed reactions to his 1996, live-action family adventure 101 Dalmatians, Herek helmed the Eddie Murphy comedy Holy Man. Though his 2001 comedy drama Rock Star did indeed connect with an audience, there were a very select few who could genuinely appreciate the story; the film faded quickly from theaters, eventually finding a wider audience on cable television. Herek's 2002 romantic comedy Life or Something Like It was ultimately weighed down by inconsistent performances and a bit too much melodrama. The following year, Herek moved into television with Young MacGyver, and in 2004, he prepared for the release of Cheer Up, in which Tommy Lee Jones stars as a Texas Ranger assigned to protect a group of cheerleaders who have witnessed a murder.