Greetings. I am a film critic from the future. The near future. So near it wouldn’t even impress you. Everything’s the same. It’s depressing. As a future film critic, it’s my task to electronically deliver spoiler-filled reviews of awful films from my present to yours with an aim to keep these cinematic atrocities from existing in the first place through the power of premature bad press. These are my chronicles: The Future Movie Reviews.
Len Wiseman‘s (credited, here as Alan Smithee) update of John Carpenter’s They Live is so bad it may start its own fight clubs. Its cockeyed point of view bravely damns all those who disagree to such an extent, I’m tempted to call it high art. But that would be a mistake. This isn’t an example of artistic expression, it’s class warfare.
We frequently complain about remakes being creatively bankrupt rehashes of familiar moments haphazardly glued together with perfunctory crap. Len Wiseman’s They Live doesn’t have this problem. It’s wide-eyed and dedicated. Nearly every scene feeds into its overall theme in one way or another. Which means technically it’s actually a very good film. If it’s morals weren’t rotten to the core, I might even compare it favorably with Carpenter’s original.
The film stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Nada, a corporate banker living the highlife on Wall Street with friend and fellow corporate Banker, Frank (played by Jamie Foxx). One day, Nada accidentally walks in on a behind closed doors political meeting. On his way out of the room, a young Senate hopeful slips a pair of sunglasses into his pocket without his knowledge.
Later that day, however, he notices the new sunglasses. Upon putting them on his head, Nada enters a whole new world hidden from most of us. Instead of seeing working class people busting their humps to make ends meet, the glasses reveal a nation of illegal aliens and freeloaders. Magazines, billboards, money, and television shows order everyone to “chill out,” “get some welfare,” and “have a taco, Amigo.” ATMs in the bad parts of town reveal themselves as literal government teats from which the proletariat get their funds. The glasses also exaggerates peoples’ true ethnical heritage and adds fifty pounds to their already heavy frames.
This kicks off a series of violence set pieces where Nada gears up with weapons and enters the bad parts of town waiting for altercations, much like Paul Kersey in Death Wish. These scenes are where Len Wiseman’s They Live most robs the original. A fat bum asks Nada if he has any gum. Rather than just saying “no” like a normal human being, he responds with a forced, “I’m all out of bubblegum,” then shoots him. There’s also a moment where, just before blowing her brains out, Nada tells a female crack addict, “You know, you look like your head fell in the cheese dip back in 1957.” After shooting her, he eyes the mess and adds, “Make that nineteen forty seven.”
Each of these lines, of course, comes accompanied by The Rock’s signature raised eyebrow, verifying both this film’s way off moral compass and its absolute ignorance regarding its own toxicity.
This becomes even more apparent in the big fight scene between Nada and Frank over the glasses. In this version, Frank puts the glasses on immediately. He just doesn’t think it’s such a big deal because he grew up with poor parents. Nada and Frank fight simply because the more Nada wears glasses around his fellow Wall Street shark, the more Frank resembles everything else wrong with the city. But Frank is a badass, so killing him takes longer. Way longer.
I understand a remake wanting to outdo the original, but this fight scene is ridiculous far beyond what Carpenter did. Len Wiseman’s They Live runs almost three hours long. Half that running time is this fight. It just goes on and on and on. An over reliance on shaky cam and CG gore make it that much more insufferable. Like with the original, people will be talking about this fight. Unlike the original, however, it will only be as a warning.
You spend most of your time with Len Wiseman’s They Live waiting for the inevitable ending in which Nada sees the error of his ways. But no, the film instead justifies his actions as heroic. He doesn’t even die. After killing Frank, a bunch of shady figures approach him, informing him that he passed their test and can now join their political party. The film then cuts ten years later and reveals The Rock as President of the United States. He says something about “cleaning this place up,” puts on the glasses, and then smirks with that raised eyebrow.
The mystery now is how this whole thing came to be. Len Wiseman’s the last director on earth to assume some kind of political stance in his films, so someone clearly put him up to it. This is made more obvious by Wiseman’s insistence on the Alan Smithee pseudonym. In a way he should be proud. Rather than making yet another piece of Hollywood fluff, Wiseman has given the world a film people will probably discuss and condemn until the end of time. Perpetual infamy is still a form of artistic immortality, right?