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‘Coneheads’ Misses the Point

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 23, 1993


Steve Barron
Dan Aykroyd;
Jane Curtin;
Michelle Burke;
Michael McKean;
Jason Alexander;
Lisa Jane Persky;
Laraine Newman;
Chris Farley;
Dave Thomas;
Jan Hooks;
Phil Hartman;
Jon Lovitz;
David Spade;
Michael Richards
Sexual innuendo and cartoon violence

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Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin attempt a cone-back in a big-screen revival of "Coneheads" -- or les tetes commes des Alpes, as they are known in their native France. Their endeavor, alas, was doomed from the start, for while it is possible to stretch a "Saturday Night Live" sketch into a full-length epic -- witness "Wayne's World" -- the Coneheads are, well, different.

What Dan, Jane and a slew of past and present "SNL" writers forgot is that, despite their protuberant pates, the Cone folk are the antithesis of dramatic. The whole joke, alien shtick and verbal ingenuity aside, is that nobody but nobody notices anything the least bit odd about their ludicrous claims that they come from France and not the planet Remulak.

The Coneheads, you see, are the ultimate American success story: They have assimilated regardless of their obvious physical and cultural differences. But Aykroyd, who penned the screenplay with Tom Davis and "Wayne's World" writers Bonnie and Terry Turner, violates the delightful premise: A mean-spirited immigration official, Gorman Seedling (Michael McKean), and his smarmy aide (David Spade) notice something funny about Beldar (Aykroyd) and his stoic mate, Prymaat (Curtin). Indeed, Seedling is pretty certain that they aren't ordinary illegal aliens but extraterrestrial wetbacks. A bigoted fanatic, Seedling makes their deportation his number one priority.

The Coneheads, meanwhile, go about the business of raising their newborn daughter, Connie, in the New Jersey suburbs, where everyone accepts them absolutely. Later, while Seedling closes in oh so slowly, troubled teenage Connie (Michelle Burke replacing Laraine Newman, who's relegated to a minor role) has a romance with a dull-witted mechanic (porky Chris Farley), providing another complication. Plus another job for another player from "SNL's" stable.

Prymaat, who has become addicted to women's magazines, suddenly notices the dust gathering on their erotic senso-rings and tries out some new techniques in the privacy of the guz chamber. Beldar assures her that he loves her, that his cone would wither -- not to mention his plarg -- without her. It is one of the movie's few effectively acted and directed moments.

Otherwise, Curtin and Aykroyd rely on old standbys -- the Coneheads' robotic waddle, their awkward speech and the consumption of mass quantities of chicken embryos. "We will ignite our new flame pit and burn some mammal flesh with you" is Prymaat's way of inviting the neighbors over for a barbecue. When that doesn't work, which mostly it doesn't, they try grossing us out with a series of revolting Remulakian childbirth jokes.

After Prymaat's water breaks with the force of a tidal wave, she is carried screeching and writhing into the delivery room. Her mate, the doctors and a couple of friends are drenched. Then little Connie is born, and Beldar, asked whether he'd like to cut the umbilical cord, happily bites it in two.

Steve Barron, who directed "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," "Electric Dreams" and a mess of music videos, understandably can't seem to whip up any enthusiasm for the project. Nor is he able to inspire this large, listless cast of zombies. Aside from Curtin and Aykroyd, only Spade, as Seedling's pandering partner, and Dave Thomas, as the Highmaster of Remulak, seem engaged in the process. Not to beat a dead garthok, but maybe it's because they are among the few characters allowed to react to the Cones. It says something when Sinbad (an appliance store owner), Jon Lovitz (a dentist) and Jason Alexander (Beldar's golf partner) aren't funny.

As if things weren't bad enough, Barron and his producer, the ubiquitous Lorne Michaels, ultimately take the Coneheads out of their comic habitat and send them back to Remulak, where Beldar uses his new golf swing to defeat the sinuendo and cartoon violence. x-legged garthok in a battle to the death. What is this, "Conanhead"?

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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