This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.
John Nada (“Rowdy” Roddy Piper) is drifting from town to town across the States after losing his job in Denver, Colorado, in the midst of a massive economic downturn. (He drops a reference to 14 banks closing in a week.) Arriving in Los Angeles, he is eventually able to find work on a construction site, and finds something resembling a community in a favela of the sort that we aren’t supposed to believe exists in North America, occupied by members of the growing underclass John finds himself a part of, and a friend in the form of Frank Armitage (Keith David), who’s full of criticism of the capitalist system as it stands and is beginning to think that violent action may be the only solution – though John still just about believes in America and isn’t ready to go that far.
As it turns out, there’s a few people around who are out to make a difference. The community manager of the favela, a street preacher John sees hassled by cops earlier in the day, a strange professor whose pirate TV transmissions are trying to get the truth out – these form the leadership of the local cell of a resistance movement founded by a small group of scientists who, through a purely accidental scientific discovery, have discovered the terrible truth – that Earth has been colonised, occupied, and completely controlled by aliens who masquerade as human beings and hide their commands to us in plain sight, with mind control transmissions keeping is in a hypnotic state that keeps us unable to perceive this.
By chance, John happens to spot the connection between the pirate TV broadcasts and the church across the street from the settlement. Investigating, he discovers a strange laboratory in a back room of the church – but before he can take his investigations much further, a massive police raid on the shanty town takes place, a violent purge which sees the church taken out with it. After the carnage of the raid, John is able to retrieve from the ruined church a box of very special pairs of sunglasses – glasses fitted with “Hoffmann lenses”, developed by the resistance. These sunglasses are effectively an instant political awakening in plastic form: wearing them, not only do you look damn cool, but you also break through the aliens’ illusions and get to see the world as it really is. The sight is so shocking to John that he realises that his nonviolent, stick-to-the-rules ways can only play into the hands of the aliens. It’s time for John to chew bubblegum and kick ass – and he’s all out of bubblegum.