“I’ve come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubble gum.”
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper, WWE Superstar, was not the pro wrestler you might expect to star in a science fiction B-list film by John Carpenter. And yet, Roddy Piper was absolutely perfect as Nada, a bad ass drifter who stumbles across a secret few people knew. Piper was able to take the cheesy aspects of the script and dialogue of They Live, and make an indelible mark in this role. How many people could deliver that line about bubble gum seriously? Roddy could and he did.
They Live is a tremendous movie. It has quite a list of hidden messages that are anything but subtle. But that is not what makes this film stand the test of time. That is the performance of “Hot Rod.”
Carpenter wisely kept Roddy’s dialogue down. Nada was a man of few words and that certainly helped with Roddy’s acting skills. But even so, Roddy knew how to connect to the audience, something he did for years in the ring.
And the biggest benefit of someone like Roddy Piper is you have someone who spent a lifetime making fake fighting look real. The iconic fight scene in They Live between Roddy Piper and co-star Keith David is one of the greatest, most realistic fight scenes ever placed on film. Piper and David’s characters beat the living crap out of each other and there were signs of it. The blood, bruises and swelling highlighted how brutal the fist fight was. This six minute fight scene comes well into the run time of the film and never seemed to end.
Nada gets chucked out a window in this film as well in a shocking moment that I remember not believing when I fist saw it. It was a great scene and Piper played it beautifully. He was tossed from the window by Meg Foster’s character Holly, who plays a huge part in the end of the film.
Speaking of the end, this film did not have a happy ending, in particular for our heroes and that made it hard for the young me to watch considering I was a lifelong wrestling fan and I loved Roddy Piper. Still, the ending fit the story and opened the world of the film to uncertainty and potential chaos and those are things that John Carpenter movies love.
They Live is certainly not a brilliant, high-budget film. It is a B-movie that has a fun science fiction script packed full of social messages and an unexpectedly fantastic performance from Roddy Piper. It is a film that can be watched at any time and enjoyed for what it is.
Even if you are all out of bubble gum.