They Live, of course, stars Rowdy Roddy Piper, just retired from the WWF and looking for a new career turn. He plays a homeless man who has apparently drifted all the way from Denver to L.A. He puts his beef to work on a construction site and hooks up with a similarly-stacked Keith David, who shows him the way to the outdoor homeless shelter.
That night a pirate TV broadcast breaks into a set at the shelter – the signal goes in and out but the man is attempting to warn everybody about some mysterious signal transmissions and some hidden overlords. The creepy thing is that there’s a blind preacher across the street who seems to be able to recite the speech the TV pirate is giving – he and the homeless shelter director disappear into the African Methodist Episcopal Free Church (that’s what it says on the sign!).
The next day, a suspicious Rowdy Roddy sneaks into the church to find that it’s a front – for the pirate TV group. They’ve got some mysterious manufacturing process and they’re filling boxes for “delivery”, but of what? That night the church gets raided by the Po-Lice, who also come and raze the homeless shelter with bulldozers and riot gear. For no reason. I mean, we’re talking a pretty severe constitutional crisis here. Rowdy Roddy gets the privilege of watching the cops beat the TV pirate and the blind preacher on the streets, but manages to escape unharmed.
Still curious, Rowdy Roddy busts into the church the next morning and finds one remaining box hidden in the walls, so he liberates it. What does it contain? Sunglasses. He tosses the box in a trashcan but keeps a pair. Quite the disappointment…until he realizes that the sunglasses allow him to see subliminal messages (“Consume”, “Buy”, “Obey”, “Stay Asleep”, “Honor Apathy”) written on every sign and in every magazine. “This Is Your God” on the money.
Oh, yeah, and some people look like totally freaky-ass aliens! Oh, SHIT! THE ALIENS ARE EVERYWHERE AND THEY ARE CONTROLLING US!
And Rowdy Roddy, not exactly being the clever type, mouths off to an “ugly lady” instead of taking this in stride. “I’ve got one that can see!” she says into her wristwatch, and the chase begins. Well, Roddy takes out some alien cops with his wrestling moves and gets himself armed. “I’m here to chew bubblegum and kick ass…and I’m all out of bubblegum” goes the classic line. But one man against a multitude of disguised aliens (that can teleport themselves no less), so he carjacks a human woman and has her shelter him. She happens to be the programming director at Channel 54, the TV station which was getting pirated – a revelation that takes Rowdy Roddy off his guard enough that she can hit him over the head with a wine bottle and shove him out a second-story window. She finds the sunglasses remaining on her floor as she calls the cops.
Rowdy Roddy goes back to the trash can to get the rest of the sunglasses and manages to rescue a few pairs (from the departing trash truck) when Keith David, who has seen the TV reports about the (alien) murders committed by Roddy shows up. Thus ensues one of the greatest (and longest) buddy fight scenes in movie history, all over “put the glasses on!” It’s epic. All six minutes of it. And it’s on YouTube.
With Roddy finally winning, he converts one more bloodied soldier over to his cause. And fortuitously, they happen to run into the homeless shelter director who recognizes them and realizes (from the glasses) that they are allies. He invites them to a secret meeting, where they’re hooked up with new contact lenses. There he also finds the programming director, who was allegedly clued in by the glasses, and they’re about to have a moment when a police raid hits.
Rowdy Roddy and Keith David escape (wasting no small amount of ammo on their automatic weapons) and accidentally activate the “disappear” function on one of the alien wristwatches, which opens a hole into the underground tunnels that serve the aliens. They stumble onto a banquet being held where it becomes clear that the human power elite are cooperating with the aliens in exchange for, well, wealth and power. From the tunnels, they conveniently find their way to Channel 54, which is conveniently the linchpin of the entire alien operation, and whose roof hosts the signal generator which prevents humans from seeing the aliens as they really are. Well, it turns out the programming director is a collaborator, and she kills Keith David before Rowdy Roddy takes her out, and takes out the signal generator, too.
That’s right, it takes nothing but a pistol to destroy the supreme alien technology that keeps all humans hallucinating. Well, sadly Rowdy Roddy gets his from some pizza-faces in a helicopter right after he destroys the generator, but now at least the humans, able to see their enemies, face a fair fight.
It’s a completely goofy movie. The plot is…careless, if anything. The aliens leave themselves a bigger vulnerability than a “small thermal exhaust port”. Roddy can’t execute a plan to save his life, and only comes up the hero in the end by blind luck. But, you know, it’s kind of fun.