SOME ADVICE about "Meet the Applegates," a black comedy about mission-bent giant beetles in the heart of human surburbia: Beg off. Send regrets. Whatever you do, don't meet the Applegates.
First reason: The lead bug is Ed Begley Jr. Second reason: Nobody steps on him. Third, more detailed reason: Director Michael Lehmann, who made a name for himself with the grimly satirical "Heathers," has created a disappointing, only passingly funny drama, which spends most of its time on its back.
A colony of scaly, Amazon-based invertebrates, including Begley, Stockard Channing and Dabney Coleman, are mad about the deforestation of their jungle habitat. Disguising themselves as humans, they head for suburban Median, Ohio, with terrorist revenge on their minds. Posed as the consummately average American family, and well versed in human facts (such as "Most housewives prefer Tide"), Begley, Channing and kids Cami Cooper and Bobby Jacoby fit right into the nondescript neighborhood.
But they become more emotionally involved than they anticipated. Begley, who secures the mission's crucial job at the local nuclear facility, has a fling with the secretary. Channing gets too much of a jones for credit cards. Jacoby gets hooked on grass with the local boys. Cooper gets herself knocked up.
The movie has its amusing elements. When the Applegates get over-excited (usually from sex or drugs), for instance, their beetle parts burst dramatically through their human skin. The Applegates' idea of a binge is to gobble through garbage. And, as with "Heathers," the local body count begins to rise, as the Applegates capture more and more humans that annoy them and hoard them (in squishy pods) in the basement.
Channing makes a wonderfully addled housewife. Watching a home-shopping TV ad (for a massaging sofa called the Wellness Thumper), the acquisitive longing in her eyes is hysterical -- even touching. As the mastermind behind this campaign, Coleman (dressed most of the time in queen-beetle drag with a mustache) makes all his comic moments count. But he's stuck in a roach motel of a subplot.
"Applegates" comes across as a bad version of "The Coneheads," with the talents of a Dan Aykroyd (who would have made a great arthro-Dad) noticeably missing. Lehmann and coscripter Redbeard Simmons hint at a tremendous satire about the darkness lurking beneath so-called normal life, but they deliver with rather clumsy mandibles.
MEET THE APPLEGATES (R) -- Area theaters.