- Movie Rating -

They Cloned Tyrone (2023)

| July 21, 2023

Juel Taylor’s bizarre conspiracy sci-fi comedy They Cloned Tyrone drops onto Netflix with very little fanfare this weekend, and that’s both a blessing and a curse.  It was filmed in 2020 (note that it co-stars Jamie Foxx, whose health issues were reported months ago) and made a strong showing at the American Black Film Festival this past June before being given a very limited theatrical run and landing on Netflix today.  A theatrical release would be a dead zone, given not only The Barbenheimer but also Mission: Impossible, Indiana Jones and the booster campaign for Sound of Freedom.  It’s a crowded summer and once you’ve seen the dynamic duo this weekend, the good news is that this odd little gem is waiting at home for you.  Don’t judge this book by it’s cover.

Tyrone is a strange movie, somewhere on par with other sci-fi mystery horror comedies like Videodrome, Halloween III and its most obvious inspiration Get Out.  The movie takes place in a small black community known as The Glen – the kind of neighborhood that whitey is best to avoid (there’s a stated reason for that).  What should be noted right away is that Taylor’s vision here is not suppose to be realistic.  This is a heightened reality.  Yes, there are drugs and guns and pimps and prostitutes and general urban decay but there’s something parodic about this environment.  We aren’t on the mean streets of a real city, but more or less a white movie executive’s vision of what they think happens in a black neighborhood.  If you imagine the world of “Grand Theft Auto,” then you kind of get the idea.

The personalities are a little bigger, as are the hairstyles, the language and the actions.  When we meet Jamie Foxx’s paranoid pimp Slick Charles, there’s something about his speech patterns that seems a little faster, a little more hectic and far more peppered with the N-word – I’ll admit I needed captions.

So, right off the bat, we have an idea of what Taylor is going for, but it gets a lot more complicated than that.  Our central focus is on Fontaine (John Boyega), an angry thug who deals drugs and wanders through this landscape with a mean scowl on his face.  Given the nature of the film, we aren’t surprised that his days include dealing drugs, shaking people down, and the occasional outburst of casual violence.  In spite of the parody, the main characters in this film are always given one more dimension then we expect.  Fontaine’s motivations are fed by his surroundings but also the bitterness of having lost his little brother.

Then one night, it happens.  While paying a business call to the very nervous Slick Charles and his chief prostitute Yo-Yo (Teyonah Parris) at a motel he is fatally shot by some rival dealers.  BUT!  The next morning he wakes up in his bed.  Slick Charles and Yo-Yo are horrified to see him back from the grave but Fontaine remembers nothing.  Yo-Yo, who grew up on a steady diet on Nancy Drew books, springs into action and becomes an amateur detective, uncovering other bizarre occurrences around The Glen that might lead to a conspiracy.  Why is everyone laughing when they eat fried chicken?  Why are all of the legitimate worldly complaints at the hair salon soothed over by the appliance of hair gel.  And what is going on down at the local church.

Layer upon layer, Yo-Yo, Slick Charles and Fontaine uncover a mystery that is wrapped inside an enigma and dipped in secret sauce.  Are they being mind controlled by the top-heavy white government?  What’s going on just beneath their feet?  The journey to get there is as fascinating as it is ridiculous.  Taylor wraps a comedy inside a conspiracy thriller with a social commentary laid on thick.

I am being sparse about the details (unlike many of my fellow critics) but I’ll just say that They Cloned Tyrone redefines the term “high concept.”  Everyone has imagined that the world around them is being controlled somehow, that a shadowy organization is pulling the strings and given the recent upswing in protests over Black Lives Matter, it’s hard not to have this in mind.

They Cloned Tyrone is not a great movie.  It falls apart a bit in its second half, but I admire what it is.  I admire that Taylor is thinking outside the box and creating something the looks and sounds and moves with its own style.  This is the kind of movie that people are going to talk about when they think about kooky, and unusual films.  It belongs in that canon.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.