“Jane, you ignorant slut.” Serious fans of SNL recognize this phrase as Dan Aykroyd’s reply to costar Jane Curtin during their Point-Counterpoint spoof. An original cast member of SNL, Curtin is also known from her long-running shows Kate & Allie and 3rd Rock from the Sun. While she hasn’t appeared in too many films over the years, the vault salutes Jane Curtin on her 66th birthday by looking back on the SNL-skit-turned-movie Coneheads. (By the by, I hadn’t intended to have two “aliens among us” films featured this week, but it’s funny how it worked out that way!)
Beldar (Dan Aykroyd) and Prymaat (Jane Curtin) Clorhone are aliens from the planet Remulak sent to scout Earth for potential invasion when they are shot down and crash in the ocean. With no hope of rescue for seven zurls and Prymaat with cone, the two must “blend” into American society. Their first attempt, under the surname DiCicco, attracts the attention of overzealous INS agent Gorman Seedling (Michael McKean). He and Agent Turnbull (David Spade) unrelentingly hunt the “DiCiccos;” that is until Seedling gets promoted to Deputy Commissioner and loses interest.
Years pass and Beldar, Prymaat and their young one, Connie (Michelle Burke), who’s now a teenager, are living the American dream in Paramus, New Jersey. Beldar receives word from Marlax (Phil Hartman) rescue and return to Remulak is imminent, which makes Connie none too happy. Meanwhile, Seedling is back on Beldar and Prymaat’s trail because he must close the DiCicco case before he can be promoted to INS Commissioner.
Why couldn’t Coneheads be as interesting as that synopsis sounded? When I was younger, I knew Coneheads wasn’t a stellar piece of cinema, but I dug out. Revisiting it after so many years, I must admit it doesn’t hold up. Mebs! Mebs! Mebs!
Directed by Steve Barron and written by Tom Davis, Dan Aykroyd, Bonnie Turner, and Terry Turner, Coneheads hits all the notes that made the recurring skit fun, but somehow loses some of the unusual family’s pizzazz. Ever present is the Coneheads nasally, monotone voices, their bizarre word choices and stiff-legged shuffling, and of course, their need to consume mass quantities. Beldar’s still a whiz at repairs who occasionally smokes whole packs of cigarettes when nervous.
Having immigrated from “France,” the differences they have with their American friends and neighbors should provide ample opportunities for amusement. There are some funny moments, but many times the antic is so slight it barely registers as funny. Having the supporting characters react to Beldar and Prymaat’s strange speech and mannerisms by either acting obliviously or by politely pursing their lips also buries the humor of the moments too much.
Speaking of supporting cast, Coneheads is more intent on featuring a cavalcade of funny comedians in cameos and supporting roles where they’re not needed to be funny. Michael Richards, Eddie Griffin, Adam Sandler, Jon Lovitz, Drew Carey, Jason Alexander, Joey Lauren Adams, Parker Posey, Kevin Nealon, Jan Hooks, Julia Sweeney, Ellen DeGeneres, Tom Arnold, Garrett Morris, and Tim Meadows all step out in front of the camera in the briefest of roles that are mostly only mildly amusing. As Beldar’s first employer Otto, Sinbad is perhaps the most well-rounded and funniest of the supporting characters, but when exits, so does alot of the supporting comedy. Chris Farley portrays the biggest supporting role as Connie’s love interest, Ronnie, a well-meaning but not always well-doing young man. McKean and Spade make a nice pair with lots of fun potential, but their manhunt subplot is practically non-existent in the final cut. As the Highmaster, Dave Thomas is much like McKean’s; lots of potential, but little opportunity.
The thing I remember most about Coneheads is its enjoyable soundtrack, especially Paul Simon’s Kodachrome and Soft Cell’s Tainted Love. Kodachrome is featured during Connie’s formative years’ montage and is quite charming. Tainted Love makes for a nice backdrop for Beldar as he narftles the Garthok!
With it’s PG rating, I hadn’t expected to bust a gut, but I had hoped for more than I got. All of the scenes where the Coneheads are sped-up to show their quick, only reminded me that the film needed to slow down more so it could capitalize on its readily available humor. Instead the aftertaste of the aged Coneheads is more like vinegar than wine.