- Movie review
Director Juel Taylor’s feature debut is a slick and stylish celebration of the Blaxploitation genre and the black culture it spawned.
More than anything else, They cloned Tyrone – Netflix’s new conspiracy theory-focused, sci-fi comedy thriller from director Juel Taylor – aims to make you laugh with its wild tale of a secret organization terrorizing an unsuspecting black neighborhood from the shadows. But the film also wants you to think about what exactly makes you laugh: the absurdity, the jokes or the harsh reality behind the fantastic horror that plays out on screen.
Located almost entirely in an economically depressed but vibrant black neighborhood somewhere in America, They cloned Tyrone tells the story of how drug dealer Fontaine (John Boyega) accidentally discovers an alarming truth about the place he’s been called to all his life. As a native of the Glen – the small part of town where Fontaine peddles his produce as he tries to beat rivals like Isaac (J. Alphonse Nicholson) – there’s little about his stomping grounds he’s unfamiliar with.
Fontaine knows exactly where Isaac’s corner boys are usually posted, just as he knows he can always count on Biddy (Tamberla Perry) and the other Glen’s sex workers to cough up information on where people are for the right price. Fontaine also knows that people like himself and Isaac – men who go about their business violently and with little regard for the hardships other people face – are part of what makes the Glen a dangerous place for kids like Junebug (Trayce Malachi) to grow up.
But since Fontaine tragically lost his younger brother, financially supported his closeted mother, and had few other viable options available to him, it makes a lot more sense from his perspective to make a living selling drugs to cash-strapped pimps like Slick Charles (Jamie Foxx) than trying to work a 9-to-5.
although They cloned TyroneWhile the film’s reality grows exponentially bigger and weirder as the film unfolds, Boyega adds a subtle depth to his performance as Fontaine that makes his complicated relationship with the Glen immediately feel real.
Foxx’s Slick Charles — a vintage hustler well aware of how helpless he’d be without women like Yo-Yo (Teyonah Parris) who worked for him — seems plucked out of time and just feels shy about being a caricature. But when Fontaine comes to shake Slick for cash, and Boyega gets to play straight opposite Foxx and taps into all his charisma while Parris steals the scene with one-liners about crypto and the blockchain, the three characters fit perfectly into each other’s context.
The almost cartoonish weirdness that is present for most of it They cloned Tyrone comes to an abrupt halt early on when Fontaine is suddenly murdered in cold blood, with both Yo-Yo and Slick Charles witnessing the ordeal. But when Fontaine wakes up the next morning and starts his day – to the same beats as the day before – the film takes on a disturbing sort of Groundhog Day-like quality that works to illustrate some interesting ideas.
On the one hand, They cloned TyroneIt’s a story about Fontaine, Yo-Yo and Slick Charles who realize that someone or something out there is cloning people from the Glen and start looking for why. But it’s also a Spike Lee style story obsessed or about a black community taking into account the ways it is monitored and how many of the structural challenges it faces are there by design.
Because the topic matters They cloned Tyrone about – the meaning behind the clones and the way Fontaine feels existentially trapped in the Glen – is so heavy that the film sorry to bother you-like absurdity never really feels stupid. Instead, the gags in Taylor and co-writer Tony Rettenmaier’s script feel much more like the kind of humor that comes from a deep understanding of how pernicious structural racism is and taking it lightly so as not to get outraged.
As strong as They cloned TyroneBeing the first two-thirds, the final act feels more than a little slack in terms of how it tries to connect multiple plots with an ambitious set piece that involves nearly all of the movie’s players. But between the trio of rock solid lead performances, inspired musical direction from Philippe Pierre and Stephanie Diaz-Matos, and a clever finale that brings it all home, that bumpiness is part of They cloned Tyrone‘s charm and all the more reason to give it a watch.
They cloned Tyrone also with David Alan Grier, Kiefer Sutherland, Eric Robinson Jr., Leon Lamar and Joshua Mikel. The film is now streaming on Netflix.
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