Film Review: They Cloned Tyrone
They Cloned Tyrone
Director: Juel Taylor
Streaming on Netflix 07.21.2023
After many summer films without much to say, it’s time for a film with brains and social conscience—They Cloned Tyrone manages to provide both while still being exhilaratingly fun.
In a rough, inner-city and Black neighborhood known as The Glen, nothing ever seems to change, and for small drug dealer Fontaine (John Boyega, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), it’s little more than one long, monotonous hustle. In fact, things don’t change even when he is killed: He’s back to his normal routine the next day, only knowing that he died because a local streetwalker called Yo-Yo (Teyonah Parris, Chi-Raq, Candyman) and her pimp, Slick Charles (Jamie Foxx), assure him that it happened, and the unsettling feeling that hangs over him tells him that there is indeed something very wrong. The roguish trio soon set out to find answers as to why everything in The Glen seems to be so hazy and suspicious and why everyone seems to be under constant surveillance. With amateur sleuth Yo-Yo leading, the group soon finds themselves down the metaphorical rabbit hole, leading them to an underground laboratory where shocking experiments are taking place. Are the inhabitants of The Glent merely puppets manipulated by sinister forces, or do they have a say in their own fate?
They Cloned Tyrone is a dystopian, science-fiction mystery that wears its status as a commentary about systematic racism and the oppression of Black Americans on its sleeve. The comparison to Get Out is inevitable, as director Juel Taylor, and his co-screenwriter Tony Rettenmaier, are clearly making a thriller with a socially conscious subtext. The biggest difference being that while Jordan Peele’s horror masterpiece had layer upon layer to peel away and discuss, They Clone Tyrone is much more straightforward. It’s difficult to miss what the filmmakers are trying to say about Black people being deliberately kept down, used and abused by the American system, though the somewhat in-your-face approach to getting its point across doesn’t diminish the film’s raw power.
There’s also more than a little of Invasion of the Body Snatchers mixed with I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, as Taylor pokes fun at the blacksploitation films of the ’70s with a fierceness of wit and gleefully irreverent sense of fun that mixes woke messaging with an almost Blazing Saddles–style edginess that doesn’t care who it causes to squirm. Ken Seng’s (Terminator: Dark Fate) cinematography was captured on digital and transferred to film, giving it a uniquely grainy yet stark look that creates a constant, subconscious visual clue that nothing in this world is quite what it appears to be.
Boyega is a phenomenally gifted actor, and his powerhouse performance here carries serious dramatic weight and ranks among his best work to date. Foxx is back in top form and has never had a more comparable vehicle that allows him to flex his comedic chops while maintaining the kind of depth that’s associated with his dramatic work. As great as both actors are, it’s Parris whose work screams out that a star is born even before her big break in The Marvels hits later this year. Yo-Yo’s blend of zany vulgarity and empowering strength make it truly a tour de force, and the performance has Oscar consideration written all over it. Finally, Kiefer Sutherland is both hammy and unnerving as a mysterious figure pulling strings from the shadows.
They Cloned Tyrone is far and away one of the best films of the summer, and it’s a smart, hilarious, action-packed and thought-provoking mindbender. If you’re complaining that every movie these days feels the same, you owe it to yourself to check this one out. –Patrick Gibbs