I can’t say the Coneheads have ever been my favorite Saturday Night Live characters. Unlike, say, Wayne and Garth or the cantankerous nerds played by Bill Murray and Gilda Radner, these flesh-peaked visitors from Remulak who talk like robots out of an old sci-fi movie have virtually no satirical resonance. The driving motivation behind the TV sketches seemed to be nothing so much as Dan Aykroyd’s desire to parade the contents of his warped slide-rule brain. (Has Aykroyd ever played a character who didn’t speak in rapid-fire techno-jargon?) And what the late-night audience appeared to enjoy most about the Coneheads was simply the sight of those zany strobiloid noggins. As a concept, the Coneheads never were very funny. What they were was a cuddly cult touchstone, SNL’s official alien mascots.
As a big-screen comedy, Coneheads isn’t all that funny either, yet it’s blithe and inventive and surprisingly light on its feet. Directed by Steve Barron, the movie is more deadpan than the TV sketches were, and it isn’t weighed down by nostalgia (we never even see Beldar power-drink a six-pack). Instead, it treats the Coneheads as lovable super-freak heroes. Disguised as a middle-class couple in Paramus, N.J., Beldar (Dan Aykroyd) and Prymaat (Jane Curtin) indulge, as always, in their fantastically literal-minded version of earthly conversation (”I believe it is time for midday cessation of activities for protein-carbon intake”). The joke is that despite their meticulous science-class banter, these walking machine-heads have all the lusty appetites of suburban Americans. They shop, eat, drink, make love; they consume — with a vengeance. They just aren’t the teensiest bit sentimental about it. What they lack, to a ridiculous degree, is the ability to add a pinch of drama to their own thoughts.
The movie is a nutball jamboree of sight gags, verbal gags, and pure helium daffiness. On the ha-ha scale, Coneheads lacks the inspired highs of Wayne’s World, but it’s wittier (and better paced) than The Addams Family. At heart, it’s a movie for kids, and commercially speaking that may prove to be a master stroke. Though the film has been crammed with enough Saturday Night Live cameos to stock the show’s 20th-anniversary reunion party, it is children, far more than adults, who’ll love seeing Beldar expose his multitiered teeth at the dentist’s office, or Prymaat affix her mouth to one end of a vacuum cleaner, or the Coneheads’ sexy Americanized daughter (Michelle Burke) wear a conic swim cap at her high school diving meet.
Still, I wish this PG-rated camp fantasy had had a touch more grunge. By turning the Coneheads into a mildly outre family cartoon, Barron and producer Lorne Michaels have overlooked some of their wildest opportunities for comedy — like, say, having Beldar, in his ’50s cardigans, fall prey to earthly temptation. The funniest moment comes when Beldar confronts the greaser slob his daughter has been dating (SNL’s Chris Farley, in a performance of Belushi-esque scuzziness), rips the top off his car, and threatens him with murder. After all the quaint cleverness, it’s a bloody relief to see the guy finally blow his cone. B-