What I’ve Been Watching: Coneheads (1993).
Who’s Responsible: Steve Barron (director); Tom Davis, Dan Aykroyd, Bonnie Turner, Terry Turner (screenwriters); Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, Michelle Burke (stars).
Why I Watched It: Numerous reasons, at least partly elucidated below.
Seen It Before? Yeah, baby.
Likelihood of Seeing It Again (1-10): 8½ (an oblique nod to my daughter’s recent wedding).
Likelihood the Guys Will Rib Me for Watching It (1-10): Off the charts. “Mebs!”
Totally Subjective BOF Rating (1-10): 8.
And? Years ago—or I should say starting years ago, since it never stopped per se—the guys razzed me relentlessly for praising this film, a critical appraisal that doubtless epitomized my reputation as, shall we say, an easy lay. So it was with a mixture of nostalgic affection and profound curiosity that I finally embarked upon a re-viewing, wondering if I’d be forced to recant, but I won’t keep you in suspense: I loved it, again. If you watched Saturday Night Live back in the day (1977-’79) and simply never liked the sketches that introduced these characters, then I would understand that the feature-film spin-off is not for you, but if you were a fan, as I was, I can’t see not enjoying this.
The sketches—of which I was surprised to see there were fewer than a dozen—depicted the Earthbound escapades of Beldar (Aykroyd), Prymaat (Curtin), and daughter Connie (Laraine Newman) Conehead, who are natives of the planet Remulak, but explain their strange behavior by insisting, “We are from France.” I also did not know, until I started researching this piece like a responsible blogger (or is that an oxymoron?), that the film largely followed the plot of a 1983 Rankin/Bass animated special, which I avoided like the plague if I was even aware of it. And, believe it or not, Burke was so convincingly recast as Connie that throughout the entire picture, I did not know she wasn’t Newman.
Spinning sketch characters off into a film is usually, as my own beloved daughter would say, an epic fail, and requires a strong rationale, of which in my opinion this has not one but two. The first is a conceptually sound story too substantial to fit within the confines of a sketch, in this case the gradual realization by INS Deputy Commissioner Gorman Seedling (Michael McKean) and his delightfully slimy subordinate, Agent Eli Turnbull (David Spade), that the illegal aliens they’re tracking are literally aliens. The second is production values that, again, exceed TV’s limitations, here treating us to an actual look at Remulak, complete with a stop-motion monster by no less than Phil Phreakin’ Tippett.
As the credits unspooled, I was struck by the dichotomy between the largely unfamiliar names in the crew (excepting co-writer Aykroyd, who I gather was primarily responsible for developing the characters…inspired in part by 1955 Gil-fave This Island Earth!) and the comedic who’s-who of the cast. Director Barron is a TV and music-video guy, while the husband-and-wife Turners are SNL vets; seeing his name in isolation, I stupidly did not realize that this was Davis as in “Franken and.” Other roles, mostly Remulakians, are played by SNL alums Chris Farley, Phil Hartman, John Lovitz, Garrett Morris, and Adam Sandler; Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander and Michael Richards; SCTV’s Dave Thomas, et al.
Lovitz is magnificently deadpan as Dr. Rudolph, the dentist who helps Beldar blend in by capping his Zuni-doll teeth (later provoking the ire of Remulakian “Highmaster” Thomas), and Alexander sports a hilariously awful rug as their next-door neighbor, Larry Farber. You know a movie’s good when it gets you to like people you normally can’t stand, e.g., Sandler, who made me do a double-take in his single scene as the mobster who provides Beldar with a dead man’s Social Security number, thus alerting the INS. My heart sank when I saw the names of frequent co-stars Spade and Farley, but the former is splendidly sycophantic, while Farley’s auto mechanic, Ronnie, provides Connie’s romantic interest.
What can I say about the awesomeness of McKean, whose range extends from Laverne & Shirley’s Lenny during my misspent youth and the spectacularly dim David St. Hubbins in This Is Spinal Tap (1984) to The X-Files, for Heaven’s sake, and who is brilliant as the single-minded Seedling? I enjoyed the Coneheads’ clever speech patterns (“Maintain low tones!”) and offbeat mannerisms as much as I did in the sketches. And I loved the ingenuity with which they camouflaged their cones for the costume party: Beldar with Abe Lincoln’s stovepipe hat, Connie with a princess’s hennin (you may have to look that one up, as I did), and Prymaat by coloring it red and going as a giant lipstick. Great stuff.