“I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubble gum.”
Now regarded as one of the greatest one-liners in movie history, these immortal words were first uttered by “Rowdy” Roddy Piper in John Carpenter’s cult classic “They Live.”
Piper, playing a mysterious drifter named Nada, says the now-iconic line early on in the film, after discovering a pair of special sunglasses that, when worn, reveal the true nature of a consumer-obsessed society.
Now able to see the ruling class for what they really are (aliens from outer space with, to quote Piper again, “formaldehyde face”), Nada makes it his mission to awaken the rest of society to this ugly truth.
No bubble gum? No problem. Piper chews plenty of scenery throughout “They Live.” The professional wrestler-turned-actor makes the role of Nada all his own, embodying the laconic coolness of machismo-fueled stars like Clint Eastwood while also delivering a healthy dose of self-deprecating charm.
Piper’s silliness is especially apparent in his scenes with co-star Keith David (the pair’s nearly six-minute alley fight scene is legendary for both its violence and its darkly comic camaraderie).
Of course, this being a John Carpenter movie, there is no shortage of over-the-top violence and B-movie cheese. But what sets “They Live” apart from other Carpenter masterworks like, say, “The Thing” or “Big Trouble in Little China,” is its sharp political overtones and biting satire.
Carpenter was inspired to make “They Live” in the wake of Reaganomics and the rise of consumerism throughout the 1980s. What resulted is perhaps the director’s boldest and, in many ways, angriest film.
Simultaneously funny, terrifying and (sadly) prophetic, “They Live” is a one-of-a-kind thrill ride into a dystopian future — one that may very well become our present.
“They Live” returns to the big screen as part of the Varsity Cinema’s Midnights at 10 series, starting Thursday, Feb. 23.
— Clinton Olsasky