REVIEW: They Cloned Tyrone (2023, dir. Juel Taylor)

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 119 mins

UK Distributor: Netflix

WHO’S IN THEY CLONED TYRONE?

John Boyega, Teyonah Parris, Jamie Foxx, Kiefer Sutherland, J. Alphonse Nicholson, David Alan Grier, Tamberla Perry, Eric Robinson Jr.

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Juel Taylor (director, writer, producer), Tony Rettenmaier (writer, producer), Jamie Foxx, Charles D. King, Stephen “Dr” Love, Kim Roth and Datari Turner (producers), Pierre Charles and Desmond Murray (composers), Ken Seng (cinematographer), Saira Haider (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Three unlikely allies (Boyega, Parris and Foxx) uncover a sinister government conspiracy…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON THEY CLONED TYRONE?

Jordan Peele’s Get Out was a game-changer in many ways, including its status as the launching point for a new generation of Black filmmakers offering their own wildly satirical slices of social commentary. Some, such as Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You, Nia DaCosta’s Candyman reboot, and even Peele’s own follow-ups Us and Nope, managed to strike a compelling balance between being thought-provoking satire and genuinely engaging entertainment. Others struggled to find that consistency, including Antebellum, Master, and now They Cloned Tyrone, all of which tried perhaps a bit too hard with what they wanted to say and managed to sacrifice much of their enjoyment as actual movies.

In the case of They Cloned Tyrone, the directorial debut of Creed II co-writer Juel Taylor, there is definitely an attempt to juggle both commentary and entertainment, with its combination of retro style and sizzling chemistry between actors going right along with some truly intriguing ideas. However, the fact that it still doesn’t reach its full potential, despite some tasty ingredients at its disposal, makes it all the more disappointing that it isn’t as profound as it thinks it is.

Set in a grimy, almost exclusively Black neighbourhood known as the Glen, drug dealer Fontaine (John Boyega) is shot by rival gangsters, only to wake up the next day perfectly fine, and with no memory of his apparent death. Along with local pimp Slick Charles (Jamie Foxx) and street-wise sex worker Yo-Yo (Teyonah Parris), Fontaine investigates his mysterious circumstances, only to discover a major government conspiracy happening right under their neighbourhood, which involves cloning several Black people and controlling them for sinister purposes.

Taylor, who also co-wrote the script with Tony Rettenmaier, certainly has a strong handle on the retro aesthetic he brings to his film. The style is heavily reminiscent of the classic Blaxploitation genre of the 1970s, with a funky soundtrack and characters who fit all too well into certain archetypes from those films (there’s the smooth-talking pimp, the street-wise prostitutes, rival gangsters who go in all guns a-blazin’, and so on), right down to a grainy film stock filter complete with frequent cue marks in the top-right corner. The cinematography, editing and musical score are collectively clever in how they replicate as close as they can the look and feel of something like Shaft or Super Fly, and lead actors John Boyega, Teyonah Parris and Jamie Foxx not only share very strong chemistry with each other but also have the charm, charisma, and certainly the comedic timing to add some extra dimensions to their characters, who again fall right into those classic archetypes of Blaxploitation cinema.

However, while Taylor undeniably makes a strong case as a stylish filmmaker, his and Rettenmeier’s script consistently struggles to take the central concept to some genuinely fresh and intriguing places. What exactly this main conspiracy consists of is largely predictable, only because it’s not that much different to the kind of sinister government program that you’ve seen a lot of in these types of movies, and while there is some interesting commentary on how certain stereotypically Black products like hair straightener, grape juice, hip-hop music and even fried chicken are all a part of it in some way, the thinking behind all of it is loosely sketched that by the end, you are left with more questions than it gives answers. It’s also the kind of film that saves most of its biggest reveals for a great big exposition dump during the climax, and it undercuts the suspense as you’re trying to piece together how it’s all supposed to make sense rather than actually enjoying what’s happening, ultimately ending on a somewhat anticlimactic note with a lot of loose ends left dangling.

Crucially, for while They Cloned Tyrone definitely has a lot on its mind, it never feels as though it’s utilising its voice hard enough to convey it in a way that’s truly engaging. While there are some lively performances and funny lines of dialogue (most of them shared between Foxx’s Slick Charles and Parris’ Yo-Yo), much of the film’s tone is surprisingly morose, and gives off the feeling that it’s taking its out-there concept way more seriously than it should, rather than embrace the insanity of its satirical plot. If you want an example of how this can be done well, Sorry to Bother You is a very good one to check out; unlike They Cloned Tyrone, it has a truly unique vision with original ideas and a stronger balance of tone, and not only embraces the satire but also uses it to prod at some truly disturbing commentary.

You’d be better off with that than this one, which certainly isn’t bad but compared to a lot of other post-Get Out social thrillers, it disappointingly comes up short.

SO, TO SUM UP…

They Cloned Tyrone has a fun retro Blaxploitation style, and some lively central performances, but it disappointingly comes up short on its ability to provide fresh and entertaining commentary.

They Cloned Tyrone is now streaming exclusively on Netflix

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