Not much changes in the world we live in, except for dated movies apparently.
The film follows a nameless drifter referred to as “Nada” (Roddy Piper), who discovers the ruling class within the moneyed elite are in fact aliens managing human social affairs through the use of a signal on top of the TV broadcast, concealing their appearance and subliminal messages in mass media.
It’s funny how spot-on writer/director John Carpenter is with his satire here. All of the comments about the “Reaganomics” of the 80’s, TV, movies, and pop-culture, were all pretty funny and made me think about this a whole lot more than I was even expecting too. But I only wished that he could have kept that going on for longer.
The whole tone and setting that Carpenter started off with was pretty nice. The rich are getting richer, while the poorer are getting poorer and this is an element to this flick that starts this flick off with a bleak beginning but it isn’t as depressing because there is a big-hint of mystery in the air. I liked how Carpenter starts his flicks off, with just the right amount of mystery, setting, and even some character development roaming around as well and this one is no different. However, it was only a matter of time until he started to lose me, and lose me real, real bad.
Everything was going fine with this dark comedy satire idea on 80’s culture, but as soon as Piper puts on his cool shades, then the film goes for a huge action-packed ride. This bothered me because I felt like Carpenter really set himself up big-time with a groovy premise like this that would have everybody laughing at all of its irony, but instead, he just decided to waste his time on bullets and corny one-liners. It’s almost as if he had a good idea in his head and started off with it, and then he just decided to be a little teenager again and get a little crazy with his guns. I don’t know if that’s exactly what was going through Carpenter’s head but it sure as hell seems like it.
But it wasn’t just the fact that the film changed its tone in the first place, what really bothered me was the fact that the action wasn’t as exciting as it could have been to get this story off the ground. Of course, there’s scenes of Piper going around with a shot-gun, shooting off aliens left-and-right (which is always good fun to see) but it just keeps on starting and stopping, almost to the point of where I was utterly and completely bored. I had the same problem with Escape from New York, but it was just so much worse here and instead of keeping me glued in, it just lost me and at one point, even had me nodding off. Also, what the hell was up with that 7-minute fight!?! Made absolutely no sense as to why it went on as excruciatingly long as it did and didn’t really do much for the story, other than to show that Piper is a tough-ass mofo.
Speaking of Roddy Piper, he tries his hardest here as Nada but can’t do nothing else other than seem flat the whole time. I loved Piper as a wrestler, and always found out that he was a funny guy, who could always back it up in the ring with the best of them but he definitely can’t do that as an actor. The casting of Piper was a very smart idea from Carpenter, but Piper’s character is so flat and uninteresting, that’s it almost too hard to believe or even care what the hell this guy is going to do next to all of these bad-ass aliens. Actually, it seemed weird that Piper would start off so squeaky-clean at first, with a guy who almost seems like he wouldn’t hurt a fly, but then changes it up out of nowhere, and is now this wild, crazy, and violent one-liner dropping type of dude that don’t take no shit from nobody. It just seemed very strange to me and no matter how much I love Piper as a wrestler, the guy can’t act. Sorry my kilt-wearing friend.
But hey, at least Keith David was around to keep things going the right way, right?!? That guy better get a damn Oscar one of these days.
Consensus: They Live starts off fresh, smart, and very intriguing with it’s satire-covered premise, but then it switches gears to an action movie, and a not-so fun or entertaining action movie at that with it’s constantly uneven pace.