I couldn't swear to it, but I'll bet that "Morons From Outer Space," a British comedy puddled with ennui, was conceived eight years ago. Why else the parodies of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977), "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975) and the rock group Kiss (which you may or may not remember)?

Well, there are few things worse than stale satire, and among those things is humor of the Benny Hill variety, of which "Morons From Outer Space" also has a fair helping. The central gag of the movie is that outer space isn't populated with life forms of higher intelligence, but lower. A spaceship crashes, and the inhabitants turn out to be idiots -- when interrogated by the authorities, they can't spell the simplest words, lose the thread of their conversation and even forget the name of their own planet.

An American CIA agent (James B. Sikking, Howard on "Hill Street Blues") wants to torture and kill them, but they're saved by a hapless television reporter, Graham Sweetley (Griff Rhys Jones), who spirits them off and promotes them into public darlings. At which point the movie veers off into a rather obscure satire of celebrity.

Director Mike Hodges can keep things moving -- "Morons" is at its best when Hodges lends it a quirky, throwaway editing style in which the gags are flung at you like darts. But he also has an uncanny ability to bring the movie to a standstill; he holds onto sequences (like the interrogation) long, long after they've ceased to work.

And the gags just aren't very funny, relying overmuch on the usual British understatement ("Have that woman shot," delivered as if you're ordering a croissant), and even more on shtick you thought you'd never see anymore, as in this exchange after the spaceship crashes:

Moron No. 1: "Jules, my leg!"

Moron No. 2: "What's wrong with it?"

Moron No. 1: "You're standing on it!"

On the other hand, "Morons From Outer Space" has, by my count, eight laughs (which works out to 62 cents a laugh), among them a scene in which the embattled morons and Sweetley, holed up in a room while a mob rages outside, watch the TV news live from the scene. A moron says, "That man's gonna throw something," at which point a brick flies into the frame and conks Sweetley in the back of the head. Then again, hitting someone in the head with a brick is pretty much infallible.

Morons From Outer Space, at area theaters, is rated PG-13 and contains some mild profanity.