Remember when John Carpenter didn't suck? Remember "The Fog", "The Thing", and the original "Halloween"? Well, let me take you on another journey back to the days long before the pall of "Ghost of Mars" fell upon this director's turbulent career.
"They Live" tells the story of down on his luck homeless construction worker named Nada ("Rowdy" Roddy Piper). One day, he stumbles across a pair of sunglasses and decides to try them on. He is shocked to see that all around him are hidden messages concealed in billboards, magazines, etc that say "OBEY" or "SUBMIT" or "CONSUME PRODUCTS". To make things worse, not all of the people around him are human. With the glasses on, he can see that several people on the streets of LA (mostly rich people or cops) are actually ass-ugly aliens. Yes folks, we have been ruled by them for years, and didn't even know it!
Nada tries to warn others, but of course everyone thinks he's insane, including his fellow homeless buddy Frank (Keith David). Frank refuses to look through the glasses, until Nada dukes it out with him in an alley and forces him to put them on and look around.
Nada is freaked out at first, so he of course goes around with a shotgun on an alien-hunting spree, where he utters the film's most memorable line "I am here to kick ass and chew bubblegum - and I'm all out of bubblegum."
Eventually, he and Frank find out that the sunglasses were made by an underground resistance faction. They are recruited by the rebels to find and destroy the alien brain wave transmitter thingamajig that is concealing the aliens and all their nefarious subliminal advertising from the unwashed masses.
Let's face it. This is a B-movie with B+/A- studio funding. It's still a lot of fun though. Piper, while no actor, still has that professional wrestler charisma to carry him through, and that's enough. Keith David has always been one of my fave character actors and doesn't disappoint here. The ending is a bit of an anti-climactic letdown, and I've never seen people standing around more in a gunfight and still not get hit. However, the alien invasion/subliminal message theme is a fun one, and Carpenter, while not at the top of his game, does manage to deliver up the goods.
Apparently the (rent) alien invaders (this) never read the studies (movie) that proved that (it) subliminal advertising (ain't) doesn't work (bad).— Brian McKay, eFilmCritic.com
Sun April 17, 2011, 7:00 only, Muenzinger Auditorium
U.S., 1988, Color/ B&W, 93 min, 35mm, 2.35:1, Rated R • official site