A Grelbon Out Of Pluvarb

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THE BOTTOM LINE: Another Saturday Night Live skit is turned into a winning movie. And this one has a little heart.

Social historians will please note that of the two most endearing families in American pop culture, one (the Simpsons) is yellow and chinless, and the other (the Coneheads) eats insulation and has enough scalp to tarp the Matterhorn.

There were suspicions of bottom trawling when Saturday Night Live boss Lorne Michaels chose to follow up last year's hit movie Wayne's World with a new stretching of an SNL sketch. The Coneheads, with Dan Aykroyd as Beldar and Jane Curtin as his wife Prymaat, were amusing enough in 11 skits when the show was young and flush, but could they sustain a feature film 15 years and many * zeitgeists later? Affirmative. The movie is funny and sweet -- a vision of genially warped family harmony.

On a mission to conquer Earth, a spaceship from Remulak crash-lands in Manhattan's East River. So the Coneheads must make do in the land of the Bluntskulls. They make better than do. Despite their three rows of teeth and their tendency to use condoms as chewing gum, Beldar and Prymaat and their earthborn daughter Connie (Michelle Burke) adapt splendidly to New Jersey suburban life. For this is the Conehead version of that familiar Hollywood fable, the grelbon out of pluvarb (bird out of water -- there are no fish on Remulak).

Nicely directed by video whiz Steve Barron (Billie Jean, Take on Me), the movie is a kind of SNL family reunion. More than a dozen veterans of the show play supporting roles; best is David Spade as a masterfully unctuous bureaucrat. But Coneheads is not Saturday Night satire. It is an updated Saturday Evening Post cover; it sees suburbia as a goofy Utopia. In E.T. and Edward Scissorhands (this movie's most obvious parental units), the alien beings stood in metaphorically for blacks and other minorities and had to flee home from benighted prejudice. Here, though, law-abiding citizens can get along no matter what planet they come from.

The key is Aykroyd's wonderfully fretful smile. It expresses worlds of ambiguities: anextraterrestrial's frustration at Earth mores, a doting parent's concern for his ripening daughter, a gentleman's willingness to be the sweet butt of jokes (and, in a funny shower scene, the butt of butt jokes). His mottos might be, Live and let live; Grin and bare it.