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'They Live' : (R)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 05, 1988

Even for sci-fi, the creatures-walk-among-us plot of "They Live" is so old it ought to be carbon-dated. Oh, sure, director John Carpenter trots out the heavy artillery of sociological context and political implication, but you don't have to get deep down to realize he hasn't a clue what to do with it, or the talent to bring it to life. It's much like the Carpenter-written music for "They Live" -- a boring, bare-bones two-note bass riff masquerading as a soundtrack without ever approaching a resonant chord.

The film opens with laid-off blue-collar worker John Nada (the elegant Rowdy Roddy Piper) wandering into a homeless encampment in a big city. There he stumbles (literally) into the shocking reality of a galactic-size conspiracy in which his fellow citizens are being hypnotized through subliminal messages on television and behind everything in print, from magazines to posters to marquees. When Nada dons special sunglasses developed by an emerging underground resistance, those secret messages are revealed: "No independent thought ... Consume ... Conform ... Stay asleep ... This is your God {the message of money} ... Do not question authority ... No parking." Actually, I'm not sure if that last one was with or without the glasses.

Anyway, it's not just messages that are revealed. It's the Aliens, who tend to look just like Young Republicans when viewed without the glasses, but like reptiles with. "Formaldehyde face," Piper calls one before killing it and many others, joining the underground, enlisting the help of fellow worker Keith David (after the world's longest fist fight) and maybe, just maybe, saving the world. Turns out those darn aliens are just intergalactic free enterprisers doing a little cross-worlds exploitation of our natural resources because the Earth is just another Third World to them. The media and the human power elite buy into this exploitation -- for them, it's just business as usual.

Actually, it's just John Carpenter as usual, trying to dig deep with a toy shovel. The plot for "They Live" is full of black holes, the acting is wretched, the effects are second-rate. In fact, the whole thing is so preposterous it makes "V" look like "Masterpiece Theatre."

They Live is rated R and contains some profanity and violence

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