This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
John Boyega and Jamie Foxx star in Netflix’s They Cloned Tyrone, a scattershot mix of 70s blaxsploitation with 80s sci-fi goodness.
Six years later and it’s still amazing how well Get Out works. For all the special effects and forced effort that goes into making a movie memorable nowadays, Jordan Peele’s 2017 horror-satire did so much with so little. The secret to its success was a phenomenal script that expertly mixed scares and social commentary, though leaning more into the thriller aspect. But what if Peele leaned the other way, going more for laughs than fears? That scenario plays itself out at least somewhat effectively in Juel Taylor’s They Cloned Tyrone.
We won’t meet the movie’s title character, though. Instead we follow Fontaine (John Boyega), an inner-city hustler whose life has become a bit routine: he works out, grabs a 40 and a lottery ticket, shakes down other gang members and checks on his mom while she’s watching her stories. One night after visiting a fast-talking pimp (Jamie Foxx) and one of his pros (Teyonah Parris), Fontaine is gunned-down in a parking lot about to become another unknown casualty in street life…until he awakes the next morning with barely any memory of the night before. Then he sees a mysterious black SUV grab another local out of nowhere, a similar car that the pro saw at the scene of Fontaine’s shooting. The trio follows the breadcrumbs to uncover a shocking conspiracy underneath their own hometown.
Blaxsploitation meets sci-fi.
While there are certainly horror elements at play, They Cloned Tyrone plays more like a sci-fi comedy than Get Out or even Peele’s recent Nope. The script from Taylor (Creed II) and Tony Rettenmaier (Space Jam: A New Legacy) has similar influences that Peele had, ranging from the classism in John Carpenter’s They Live to the “you are not you” plot twist in the Wachowskis’ The Matrix. The comedic elements come from the blaxsploitation coat the movie drapes over its sci-fi elements, with Parris looking like Pam Grier’s stunt double in Coffy and Foxx seemingly missing his audition for Dolemite.
None of it is cynical though, crafted and performed as a tip of the cap to those iconic pieces of African American media and the other satires they inspired like Undercover Brother and Black Dynamite. All that tribute and wackiness goes a long way to help cover the movie not following (or even forgetting) its own crucial plot elements as it keeps going along. Though its 122-minute runtime does feel a bit stretched. Still, Taylor shows promise in his first feature directing gig by knowing when to embrace the moody environment around the character and knowing just how to nail a punchline. Shame he couldn’t tell cinematographer Ken Seng (Deadpool, Project X) to add a little more light and vibrancy to the shots, though.
A smooth tonal satire.
Not only is Taylor in on the joke, but so are his actors…mostly. Jamie Foxx once again proves his worth as one of the most electric performers to ever be onscreen, speeding through lines effortlessly while jumping between pimp-daddy cool and motormouthed weasel. It takes a certain personality to break through a costume design of half-hacked perm, multiple gold rings and a leather coat dipped in Cherry Coke, but Foxx’s smooth tone and comic timing leave just the right impression. Same with Teyonah Parris, who jumps from goofy seduction to Nancy Drew-esque deduction in a heartbeat. She’s so animated in appearance and line delivery (holding her own with a veteran like Foxx) that you wish she could’ve flexed more comic chops in WandaVision or hopefully gets more room to showoff in this fall’s The Marvels.
As for John Boyega, he makes for a fine straight man amidst all the movie’s building chaos, but there’s a sense he didn’t get to fully embrace the movie’s energy the way his co-stars do. He gets a great dramatic scene near the movie’s end, granted, but his performances in the recent Star Wars sequels showed he was capable of balancing drama and comedy in even the most ridiculous circumstances. If he can make laser guns and The Force come off as both fun and legitimate, why can’t he do the same with mind-controlling fried chicken?
The bottom line.
They Cloned Tyrone may not be the most original movie of the year, but it has enough fun with its influences to get by. A lot of that credit goes to the cast and the script for not relying on prior films to elevate its own satire. A movie like Don’t Worry Darling bet its story would land best if the audience had never seen stuff like The Stepford Wives and Get Out before, meaning it didn’t have enough fresh energy to make its existence memorable (for the right reasons, anyway). They Cloned Tyrone, on the other hand, adds enough twists and updates to the genres it’s inspired by to have it be a fun addition in the satirical sci-fi space.
They Cloned Tyrone is now streaming on Netflix. You can watch the trailer here.
THEY CLONED TYRONE - 6/10