"They Cloned Tyrone" stars John Boyega, Teyonah Parris, Jamie Foxx, David Alan Grier, and Kiefer Sutherland. Released on Netflix on July 21, 2023, the film has an unlikely trio discovering a government conspiracy.
The film featured the directorial debut of Juel Taylor, known for co-writing scripts for films like "Creed II" and "Space Jam: A New Legacy". There've been a lot of mysterious scenarios relating to science fiction back in the day, especially in the 1950s, but in the 70s? That's when things took a bizarre turn. Last weekend was a great time to be a movie fan, mainly when referring to the "Barbenheimer" trend. Both "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" have gained critical acclaim and are setting the summer box office blazing. However, there was one other film from the streaming side that had been getting the same amount of love as the atomic bomb and self-confident female dolls. One that's so absurd and twisted it'll make you see double…literally. This latest movie from Netflix brings audiences back to the Blaxploitation days, where everything is pulpy and stylized for an African-American crowd but explores the weird side of the culture and cloning. Was this conspiracy outlandish enough to warrant a recommendation? Let's find out.
The story follows Fontaine (Boyega), a drug dealer in a retrofuturistic neighborhood called the Glen. His latest deal with his customer, Slick Charles (Foxx), goes awry when his drug-dealing rival Isaac (J. Alphonse Nicholson) shoots Fontaine and leaves him for dead. However, Fontaine wakes up the following day unharmed, with no recollection of the previous night's events. Shocked by this occurrence, Fontaine recruits Slick and sex worker Yo-Yo (Parris) to help him investigate the incident he survived. Their investigation leads them to a mysterious underground complex housing a secret laboratory, where they discover that the government is performing experiments on the African-American population, including clones. Even worse, Fontaine is part of the process led by Nixon (Sutherland) and is an artificial clone of the deceased original. As a result, Fontaine and the others attempt to expose this conspiracy to the public and stand up to the institutional overlords responsible for these ruthless experiments.
This is another film that pays homage to the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s, ranging from the culture to the grainy, old-school cinematography by Ken Seng. However, it blends several other genres to form an unusually surreal approach to the subgenre. "They Cloned Tyrone" combines satire with mystery, science fiction, and absurdist humor to paint an odd yet relevantly provocative depiction of white privilege amid the African-American culture. This piece of social commentary always fascinates me because it constantly reminds me there will always be someone who believes in white privilege, even though equality is formed between white and black people.
Of course, amid its quest to get the message across, the film also aimed to provide a fun sci-fi mystery satire that's as absurd and slickly designed as the marketing suggested. What other reason did I want to make me want to check the movie out aside from its cast? Fortunately for me, "They Cloned Tyrone" is able to do just that. No experimentation required. This is a sleek and well-layered sci-fi comedy that almost overstayed its welcome by ten minutes but quickly compensated with its charm, themes, and a trio of talented actors.
As a writer, Juel Taylor is no stranger to movies involving characters from the African-American community. Based on what I've seen from him, his scripts have been hit-and-miss, with his screenplay for "Creed II", which he co-wrote with Sylvester Stallone, being my favorite. His involvement with the "Space Jam" follow-up as a co-writer was the opposite despite its moments of lunacy. This brings us to "They Cloned Tyrone", which sees Taylor in the director's chair for the first time to express his unique vision of the community. It's a risky decision regarding the previous works I've seen from him, but it's a choice that actually paid off well. While his juggling with several genres periodically struggles with matching or exceeding its absurdist concept, Taylor did a solid job expressing the glossiness and retro-like pizazz of the Glen through his direction.
More importantly, he always retained sight of the compelling drama from the characters and the community it satirizes, which is accompanied well by his screenplay co-written by Tony Rettenmaier. I might even say that his script for "They Cloned Tyrone" is his best work since "Creed II". It provides some well-written scenarios that both reflect and ridicule its social commentary. However, it also offers plenty of humorous dialogue that'll have you laughing as hard as the characters after eating the substance-induced chicken. Some of its jokes may not hit as hard as others, but they're amusing enough to bypass its stretched-out narrative.
In addition to its satirical humor, the film is also anchored by its cast, with the three main leads being the highlights. Boyega, Parris, and Foxx were all tasked to deliver a chemistry that's as infectious, pulpy, and charismatically entertaining as the movie. Unsurprisingly, they accomplished that task efficiently. John Boyega continues to deliver impressive work outside the "Star Wars" sequel trilogy regarding his performance as the grimy hustler Fontaine, making this another reason why he's an underdog actor worth rooting for. Teyonah Parris was also superb as the sassy yet confident Yo-Yo. However, the only actor I enjoyed the most was Jamie Foxx as Slick Charles. His portrayal of the slick-talking customer of Fontaine elevates the movie through his humor and energy, and it was a delight to witness from the singer/actor.
I will also credit the film for its decent production designs. The film combines the retro feel of the 70s-like neighborhood with the futuristic background of the science-fiction laboratory hidden underneath the ground. It has a nostalgic appeal that resonates with those who enjoy 1950s sci-fi mystery movies and 1970s Blaxploitation films. It's the best of both worlds that benefitted from its settings and visuals.
Overall, "They Cloned Tyrone" is a successful experiment that isn't without a voice demanding to be heard. Regarding its "genre-bending" approach, most of its elements were more effective than the ones that don't, and the experience was a bit stretched out. Regardless, it's another movie that combines old-fashioned entertainment with its provocative reflection of the relevant commentary. Thanks to its entertaining cast, Juel Taylor's solid direction and script, and suitable uses of satire and surrealism, the movie is a fresh and delightful experience worth investigating.