John Carpenter, at least when he's on form (and YES we're back on John Carpenter) usually makes movies that fit into one of two categories: SHOCKINGLY solid horror films (The Thing, Halloween, The Fog, Prince of Darkness etc.) and silly, but well made, action/comedies. And while They Live is firmly in the latter category, if you can ignore some leaps in logic, a few plot and character turns that don't make a whole huge amount of sense and a JARRING shift in tone near the end, it's a silly action/comedy that works incredibly well in all the moments that count. Which is all you can ask from a movie like this anyway.
The plot is concerned with a man named...actually I don't know, I don't think they ever say his name. Oh well, he's played by 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper, and he's a homeless manual laborer who wanders into a shanty town near a suspicious Church. Quickly he finds out the Church is involved in an underground movement trying to reveal that certain members of high society, government and business are actual invading aliens, keeping us all calm with subliminal messages in...well everything, reading things like 'Obey,' 'Consume' and my personal favorite 'Marry and Reproduce.'
As stated earlier, the movie is profoundly silly. The script is unsubtle, the dialogue full of action movie cliches (this is the movie to originate 'I've come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass.') and but it all keeps a consistent tone (for the most part) so it works. Roddy is well suited for his role as he is a great physical presence, if not a particularly skilled actor, and veteran 'other guy' actor Keith David does a good job as the main characters sidekick.
The action scenes are...well essentially as silly as the movie. Notably there is one of the longest fistfight in movie history in this movie and although the fight itself is quite well choreographed and impressive, it's hard to move past how silly and inane their reason for fighting is. Most of the rest of the action scenes are extended 'run, shoot, run, shoot' sections, that thankfully end before they can wear out their welcome.
The special effects...could stand to be better. Now don't get me wrong, they're by no means terrible, especially for a 1988 movie, but while the makeup job on the aliens is mostly good, the actual masks they wear are pretty unconvincing and the lip movements don't synch up at all with the dialogue.
There are more things I could complain about, like how the plot is resolved through a MASSIVE deus ex machina or how the pacing kind of breaks down around the middle, but that's all irrelevant. What you need to know is that They Live is a B-Movie, a silly junky distraction. But it's a well made and enjoyable one and that's all you can ask of a B-Movie really. So if you need a movie for party night or want something silly to enjoy you could do a lot worse than They Live.
Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he wonders why the villains are using the PKE Meters from Ghostbusters as communicators.