They Live (1988)

theylive

Directed by: John Carpenter

In recent years many professional wrestlers have tried to branch out into acting, and aside from Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson few have succeeded. An indicator for potential success of a wrestler transitioning into acting is to look back at the promo work of a wrestler during the in-ring career. Good talkers, those who are able to sell a wrestling feud are likely to be able to transition into the world of acting. Charisma counts. Which is why bulky charisma vacuums like John Cena, Randy Orton and Ted DiBiase Jr., who all have been used in the dire ‘Marine’ franchise, have flopped, and been unable to build any kind of career outside the squared circle.

So when Rowdy Roddy Piper popped up in John Carpenter’s ‘They Live’ I had reasonably high hopes. Piper’s manic ‘Pipers Pit’ segments were memorable before WWF became WWE, and if any professional wrestler could be the lead actor in a film about sticking it to the man than Roddy piper would be that guy. In ‘They Live’ Piper plays the unnamed loner who in the credits is identified as Nada.

Basically John Carpenter offers up an unsubtle sci-fi critique on consumer culture and corporate greed in the eighties. Carpenter reflects what was going on under the government of Ronald Reagan, as American tried to puff out its chest and reassert itself as a major player after the torrid seventies.

Nada uncovers that the bankers, cops, and upper crust who control the city are aliens. He notices that after putting on a cheap looking pair of magical sunglasses (oh, gosh I’m affected by consumerism enough to bash Nada’s shades) which reveal subliminal messages on billboards and who the aliens are. Business picks up when Nada kills two policemen, who are aliens, nicks their guns and goes on the run.

In the early part of the film Nada does some hard labouring for a low wage, he becomes buddies with another construction worker called Frank (Keith David), a noble worker bee who just wants to keep his head down and earn money for his family. There’s a wonderfully long fight scene between Nada and Frank midway through the movie down some grim alleyway, as Nada tries to get Frank to look through the sunglasses and see the truth. The fight feels endless, a real tiring slog. At one stage Roddy Piper executes a beautiful back body drop.

As a cultural commentary ‘They Live’ is relevant today. Last week it got a mention in Charlie Brooker’s ‘Weekly Wipe’ show on the Beeb. When you think about the financial crisis, the recession, the snoopy spying of GCHQ and the already forgotten Occupy movement; you could argue that in true cinema fashion it’s due for a remake to reflect these dystopian times. There’s certainly an almost hypnotic quality to YouTube Vloggers dropping products to their millions of followers and people being pacified by a steady stream of distractions, all brought to us as we stare blankly at our electronic devices, continuing to buy buy buy.

But what ‘They Live’ teaches us is that though one may become enlightened; trying to convince other people about the so called ‘truth’ is almost impossible. Carpenter spins an entertaining yarn, and Roddy Piper surprises everyone by being a strong lead who drops a several quotable one liners.

– RJW

7/10

They Live on IMDB

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