They Cloned Tyrone Review: A Brilliant Sci-Fi Caper


They Cloned Tyrone wants you to think you know this story. It lulls you into believing you’re familiar with its key players- a dope boy, a pimp, and a sex worker living in a disenfranchised community - and as such, can guess how their story ends. And if this project were in any hands other than Juel Taylor (Creed II writer) and his co-writer Tony Rettenmaier, that just might be true. Instead there’s something peculiar afoot in this town. And it'll take Fontaine (John Boyega), Slick, Charles (Jaime Fox), and Yo-Yo (Teyonah Parris), a trio of unlikely gumshoes, to get to the bottom of things if they want to save themselves and their community …literally and figuratively.

That’s right, Taylor’s directorial debut is a wildly engaging science-fiction caper with a touch of horror and side of screwball comedy. As an added bonus, They Cloned Tyrone runs on the combined chemistry of a broody and ruthless John Boyega, a suave Jaime Fox, and a quick-witted Teyonah Parris along side a superbly talented ensemble featuring the likes of David Allen Grier and J. Alphonese Nicholson. The trick? They're all fully committed to the drama and comedic bit. So prepare to enter the fictional urban community known as the Glen. Where conspiracy theories are woven into the fabric of everyday life as tightly as folks gossiping in the hair salon, laughing over a meal in the local chicken spot, and the town drunk (Leon Lamar) sharing seemingly prophetic quips from his perch outside the local food mart. It’s a seemingly self-contained community in a not-so-gentle decline. 

At the center of its story is Fontaine (Boyega). An enterprising drug dealer with a soft spot for kids, love for his mother, respect for his elders, and the ruthlessness to run down a rival with his car. He spends his days collecting his money, dealing with his crew, and trying to coax his mother out of her room for meals. Wash, rinse, repeat each successive day. Fontaine keeps his head on a swivel intent on ensuring his survival no matter the cost. That is until a fateful encounter with said rival leads to him being savagely gunned down. Except he jolts awake in his bed the next morning unscathed to begin his routine anew. Was it a horrific nightmare? Or do the cackling words of the corner store prophet and seemingly seeing his bullet-riddled self being scooped up off the streets by a mysterious black SVU lead the way to the truth? 

Retracing his steps leads him back to Slick Charles (Fox), a pimp who owes him money (and seems adamant Fontaine already came calling to collect), and Yo-Yo (Parris) a sex worker with one foot perpetually out the game, in pursuit of answers. Shortly thereafter, things go left as their sleuthing leads them to a sketchy neighborhood trapt house and into an underground lab and standing over a dead duplicate of Fontaine. Neither Nancy Drew nor Team Mystery Machine couldn’t have stumbled onto a bigger discovery than nefarious experiments being run on an entire town if they tried. Taylor sets a deliberately uneven pace that makes room for sly banter that bears a striking resemblance to a game of the dozens and plenty of thinly veiled dialogue that reveals both the intelligence of these players and the deeply rooted cynicism that so often rides shotgun to disenfranchisement and neglect. You’ll likely catch yourself laughing or nodding along with a nugget of off-hand wisdom well beyond the talkative first half as the Glen’s shady underbelly threatens to pull our intrepid trio under with every twist and turn. 

They Cloned Tyrone channels its tale of government conspiracy through a stylish lens that revitalizes the blaxploitation aesthetic as the vehicle for satire and insightful commentary wrapped in hyperbole and outrageously entertaining hijinks. Betwixt and between that raucousness lies a subversive narrative ala Truman Show that runs the gambit offering a biting commentary on complacency, upward mobility, respectability politics, racial passing, Black people’s wariness of the police, scientific experimentation, doctors, the outsized influence of the church and its potential for detrimental impact on the Black psyche, white contempt and its perversion of Black food, music, and cultural connections into communal control mechanisms. As feels right, for a sci-fi flick that more than occasionally edges into horror, the cinematography veers closer to the murky grimness of John Carpenter rather than the slick hyperrealism of Peele. The film’s modern sensibilities are well served by its blend of 70s and 90s influences even as a single phrase pulls the story’s myriad of themes together into a cautionary tale about the dangers of metastatic self-loathing giving way to the type of ruthless anti-Blackness that lures the broken and unwary into plotting against their own in pursuit of a “better” future. 

They Cloned Tyrone debuts on Netflix Friday, July 21

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