They Live (1988) / Action-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: R for violence including a brutal fight, language, and brief sexuality/nudity.
Running Time: 93 min.
Cast: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster, George Flower, Peter Jason
Director: John Carpenter
Screenplay: John Carpenter (based on the short story, "Eight O'clock in the Morning" by Ray Nelson)
Review published April 6, 1999
Admittedly much of John Carpenter's work has been cheesy, but also damn good fun and THEY LIVE is no exception to either. This sci-fi actioner stars "Rowdy" Roddy Piper (yes, the ex-pro wrestler) as Nada, a drifter desperately in need of a decent job. He lands a temp job at a construction site, but strange doings in the church across the street cause him to investigate, and after the place is raided he discovers what look like ordinary sunglasses have special lenses to be able to see the world for what it really is. Unfortunately the world just so happens to be inhabited by an alien race who have taken over the Earth and forced humans into submission through subliminal messages while they are slowly turning it into a place of their own. When Piper starts fighting back, he gets himself into a whole world of trouble. With no one believing him and everyone after him, it looks like it's up to one man to try to take down a world of powerful aliens singlehandedly.
THEY LIVE can basically be seen as Republican backlash, spurning the Reagan "me generation" and the belief that the quest for success and money is what all humans should be after. It's no coincidence that all of the aliens are affluent whites, and the rest of the affluent whites are humans who are actually in cahoots with the enemy. Roddy Piper surprises with a competent performance and Keith David makes an excellent foil turned sidekick. This film, if given a larger budget and more care for the rather anemic screenplay, had the makings of great sci-fi. However, much of the concepts explored by THEY LIVE are only hinted at in the beginning, and soon the production descends into a low-budget actioner that, while maintaining entertainment, makes the film as a whole very standard fare. While much better than one would expect given the star and budget, it's still a bit frustrating that it doesn't live up to it's own promise and premise, and while still recommended for campy fun, one can only hope someone remakes the film and does it right the next time.
©1999 Vince Leo