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Dusty: When my people come to colonize this planet, my subscribers will be on the protected rolls, and no harm will come to them.
Director: Steve Barron
Writers: Tom Davis, Dan Aykroyd, Bonnie Turner, Terry Turner
Stars: Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, Michael McKean, David Spade, Chris Farley, Laraine Newman
Release Date: July 23, 1993 (United States)
Run time: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Upon discovering a UFO in American airspace, the National Guard sends fighter jets to investigate, who fire on the unresponsive craft and cause it to crash into the Atlantic Ocean, near Manhattan. The aliens from the planet Remulak aboard, Beldar Clorhone and his “genetomate” Prymaat, survive and quickly adapt to the human lifestyle, despite their conspicuous conical-shaped heads and metallic-sounding voices. Assigned by Highmaster Mintot to be ‘Fuel Survey Underlord of the Wilderness Planet at the end of the Noctolium Solar Chain’, Beldar was ordered to conquer Earth in order to establish a “Protoid Refueling Station” for the Conehead navy. Beldar becomes an appliance repairman, and upon discovering his undocumented status, his boss Otto gets him a false identity from local gangsters, which quickly alerts the INS. Meanwhile, after the couple discover from fellow Remulakian Marlax Zanthstrom that a rescue vessel will not arrive for seven “Zurls” (approximately 16 years), Prymaat informs Beldar she is pregnant. Ambitious INS agent Gorman Sneedling and his sycophantic assistant Eli Turnbull unsuccessfully attempt to capture the couple.
Months later, Beldar has become a respected taxi driver, and the couple live in his boss, Khoudri’s basement. After their daughter Connie’s birth, they adopt the surname Conehead and buy a home and move to suburban Paramus, New Jersey, where Beldar opens a driving school. Meanwhile, Gorman terminates his pursuit of the Coneheads after getting a promotion, but a U.S. Senate inquiry, citing the heavy expense, demands the case be properly concluded.
The now-teenaged Connie, who has grown up among Earth’s norms and culture, simply wants to fit in with her peers, though her father greatly objects, especially when she begins seeing auto mechanic Ronnie Bradford. This causes tension between Connie and Beldar, who strongly disapproves of Ronnie, even tearing the roof off of his car and threatening to kill him after a date goes too far but stops before intimacy. Despite this, Ronnie and Connie reconcile after talking. Meanwhile, Beldar is preoccupied with winning a golfing trophy at his country club, while Prymaat becomes concerned about Gladys Johnson, a driving student, flirting with her husband. Beldar rebuffs Gladys and assures Prymatt they are for each other.
Gorman and Eli track the Coneheads to their home, posing as Jehovah’s Witnesses to enter. During the conversation, Prymaat discovers their communication device to Remulak is beeping and notifies Beldar that ‘the Big Phone’ has contacted him, causing him to promptly eject the two. He is then notified of their approaching rescue vessel.
At a costume party that night, Beldar wins the golfing trophy. After Connie is told of their imminent rescue, she returns home with Ronnie, where she almost consummates their relationship using her parents’ “senso-rings”. Beldar and Prymaat discover them, just as the INS arrives to arrest the Coneheads. Ronnie helps stall the INS while the rescue vessel arrives just in time, and Gorman and Eli are taken aboard with the Coneheads.
On Remulak, Beldar is welcomed home, presenting the Highmaster with various Earthly ‘gifts’, including Gorman and Eli as slaves. Initially satisfied with Beldar’s accomplishments, Mintot notices that Beldar’s sharp teeth have been capped (something Otto had advised Beldar to do to blend in), accuses him of treason and sentences him to fight the ferocious Garthok (“knarfle the Garthok”), greatly distressing Prymaat.
After the Garthok easily and gruesomely kills other criminals sentenced to fight it, Beldar uses his Earthly golfing skills to hit a rock into the Garthok’s mouth, causing it to choke. The Highmaster pardons Beldar and honors Beldar’s request to return to Earth and have Gorman as his slave. Mintot agrees and hires Eli as his personal assistant, who quickly acclimates to his new role. Departing for Earth with Prymaat, Connie, and Gorman in tow, Beldar soon prioritizes Connie’s feelings over planetary conquest by quickly faking an Earth attack, ordering his invasion force to retreat and proceed to their secondary target in another part of the galaxy, while making it look like a superior weapon has destroyed his spaceship. For rescuing him, Gorman agrees to give the Coneheads Green Cards due to Beldar’s marketable talent.
Ronnie arrives to take Connie to the prom. Beldar gives him 55 words of advice, and then uses a massive flash bulb arrangement on his home-built Polaroid camera to document the happy event. As Connie and a now-sunburned Ronnie depart, he and Prymaat review the oversized photo, saying, “Ah, memories. We will enjoy them”.
Coneheads began as a bizarre comedy sketch on Saturday Night Live, and for some reason, a movie studio decided to allow Dan Aykroyd to make it into a bizarre feature length movie. The original live sketches worked in part I think, because they were short. Stretching the sketches into a feature length film – and thus forcing a story with explanations to be told – changed the genre from something that was more purely comedy into science fiction with comedic elements. The results were a bit of a mixed bag.
There were some funny elements to the movie, which leaned heavily on gag humor of extra-terrestrials performing mundane human tasks in unusual ways. The biggest laugh for me in the film was subtle, downplayed, and it occurs when Connie Conehead executes a splash-free dive during her High School team’s competition. The continued references to human beings as “blunt skulls” was mildly funny. The gag of people neither noticing nor caring about the shape of their craniums, once they explain that they are from France, continues forward from the original SNL sketches and this still manages to be funny. On the whole though, the attempts at comedy largely fell flat. The fish-out-of-water bit just runs out of steam after a few minutes and what’s left is a lot of science-fiction… oddness.
The movie also dips its toes needlessly into politics. The antagonist of the film not only works for the federal government to capture and deport illegal aliens, he is cruel. That cruelty is intended as over-the-top comedy but instead comes across as propagandized preaching. Comedy should generally be inclusive, where even the target of the joke can laugh at his or her own expense (“haha, I *am* dumb when I do that.”) The villain is not portrayed in such a way that those in the audience who want a secure southern U.S. border are likely to feel anything other than attacked.
For whatever other flaws might exist with the film, the acting in it is superb. Aykroyd and Jane Curtin are phenomenal as the Conehead parents, each speaking with fantastic robotic-sounding extra-terrestrial voices, along with consistently moving their bodies in strange alien ways. The larger cast was a who’s who of early 1990s comedy, including Sinbad, Phil Hartman, Chris Farley, David Spade, Adam Sandler, Eddie Griffin, Jason Alexander, Michael Richards, and others. The special effects in the movie are also well-done and pretty ambitious – especially the scenes on the Coneheads’ home world – for an early 1990s comedy.
Given Aykroyd’s interest in strange ancient history, I was disappointed that the movie does not connect his Coneheads to the elongated skull phenomenon from all over the ancient world. Perhaps that would have happened if Coneheads had included a sequel film. Unfortunately, the movie was not successful enough to generate the follow-up stories we might have been provided with in a sequel.
Overall, I cannot recommend that anyone spend ninety minutes watching (or re-watching) Coneheads. I really liked the film’s concept, but the laughs are just not there. Some sketches on SNL, such as Wayne’s World, translated well to expansion on the big screen. Coneheads demonstrates that some successful sketches are just best left as sketches.