BQB’S Classic Movie Reviews – They Live (1988)

I’m here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, 3.5 readers.  And I’m all out of bubblegum.

So, the obvious downside of the coronavirus is that it has left the world in utter turmoil.

But hey, the good news, is I’m watching a lot of movies I never would have had time for.

One such flick is “They Live,” the 1988 B-Sci Fi cult movie that really, really deserves more props than it gets.

It stars infamous wrestling heel, the late Rowdy Roddy Piper as Nada, a homeless drifter who wanders into town, looking for work.  He’s been downtrodden his entire life, from a shitty upbringing, to being constantly laid off and out of work, despite trying his best and never turning down work when he’s lucky enough to find it.

When he finds a construction job, it looks like he might make it, thanks to a church that provides food and help to the homeless.  While taking advantage of the church’s help, he meets Frank (the infamous and awesome Keith David), another down on his luck construction worker who had to leave his wife and family behind just to find work.  He lives the homeless life so he can send money back home.

Both men commiserate, lamenting how hard it is to get ahead.  While Nada still believes in the American dream, Frank argues the whole system is a scam.  If you aren’t born into wealth, then you’ll spend your whole life working hard and getting little in return for it, as though the system is a parasite that feeds off you.

Turns out, Frank was right but not how he thought.  Nada learns that the church is a front for a group of underground freedom fighters, people who have discovered that the world is actually run by aliens!  Yes, “They Live” among us, having perfected a means to hide their hideous alien forms by appearing human.

The human freedom fighter group has created a special pair of sunglasses that allows them to see the aliens for what they are, as well as the subliminal messages hidden in advertisements, billboards, and on TV.  When Nada pops these shades on, he realizes that the whole world is a lie, that alien bastards run it all and that elite aliens are sucking up all the world’s resources, turning big profits while lower class humans work their lives away, never getting ahead.

It’s all basically an allegory for the way the world, more or less actually works.  Funny, the movie was basically considered the silly, over the top Sharknado of its day, but for a flick headlined by a wrestler, there’s a lot that rings true, even today.  The movie’s entire premise, if you forget the aliens, is that the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the working middle class never fights it because they want their piece of the pie, so they help the upper class do things that hurt the planet for fear of losing their income.

There are scenes that are downright crazy.  Plotholes abound and Nada pretty much goes on an instant murder spree when he puts on the glasses.  He starts gunning down every alien he can find, never even taking a second to think about possible strategies.  He doesn’t even take a second to think about whether it is moral to kill beings just because they are aliens.  It’s just, “Boom!  These guys are ugly!  They have to die!”

Cheesy lines?  “Lady, your face looks like someone shoved it in the cheese dip in 1957 and left it there.”

Ah, good times.  But seriously, whenever you heard anyone say something like “I’m here to pass out candy and ass kickings” or something to that effect, this is where that line came from.

Not to mention the absurdly long fight scene between David and Piper that goes on way too long, that was eventually parodied by South Park.

Anyway, it’s fun and despite overt silliness, has a message about corporate greed and how we all might be complicit in it because we all eventually sell out and take our little sliver of pie and turn a blind eye to the evildoings of our corporate overlords for fear of losing that sliver.

Piper is stiff, almost comically so, but somehow fits the character.  The irony is if this flick had starred a Schwarzenegger or Stallone, it would probably be constantly watched even today.

It’s funny.  I remember when I was a little kid, my local video rental store (Those places once lived) had a poster for this movie hanging up for the longest time.  As a kid, it looked scary to me, so it’s funny it took me like 30 years to finally watch this.

One last compliment – as the film went on, it got towards the end and I felt like, “Hmm, this was a lot of exposition without really going anywhere” but then sure enough, there’s a great ending that is shoehorned in out of left field and I can’t think of a better way this could have been wrapped up.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.

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