They Cloned Tyrone (2023) Review

They Cloned Tyrone (2023) Review

They Cloned Tyrone (2023)
Director: Juel Taylor
Screenwriters: Tony Rettenmaier, Juel Taylor
Starring: John Boyega, Jamie Foxx, Teyonah Parris, Keifer Sutherland

A pimp, a sex worker and a drug dealer uncover a massive government plot playing out (quite literally) beneath their noses. It’s not quite the usual set up for a mystery sci-fi thriller, but Juel Taylor’s feature-length directorial debut does it any way. And it’s a riot. Pulp fiction at its finest. Even the slightly grainy quality to the camera work is reminiscent of the cheap paper that murder mysteries were printed on back in their heyday. The plot is fast and full of twists, the two-hour runtime flies by. It is the screen equivalent of a page-turner.

They Cloned Tyrone’s marketing has its three protagonists labelled as an unlikely trio, but given the film’s setting they seem the likeliest of people to take down the man. ‘Nancy Drew ain’t got shit on me’ says Teyonah Parris’s ferocious Yo-Yo. A lovable sex worker who’s as sharp with her wit as her bullets. The confidence she displays in her ability to solve the mystery is possibly misplaced. Fontaine (John Boyega) and Slick Charles (Jamie Foxx) certainly look like they don’t believe her.

Whether they like it or not, these three are at the heart of this puzzle. A puzzle that started when Fontaine (John Boyega), one of the neighbourhood drug dealers, was violently shot dead by a rival. The thing is, he woke up completely unharmed.

John Boyega cut his teeth in sci-fi cult classic Attack the Block (2011) and played an important part in the Star Wars reboots, so it isn’t surprising that he’s comfortable in another sci-fi story. In fact, every character is perfectly cast, the on-screen chemistry between John Boyega, Jamie Foxx and Teyonah Parris is a joy to watch. Foxx in particular is brilliant in the comedic role of Slick Charles, the ‘1995 International Players Ball “Pimp of the Year”’. And Teyonah Parris is amazing, especially when sparring with Foxx’s Slick.

Like Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block (2011), or Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) and Us (2019), They Cloned Tyrone is a genre film with a clear social commentary. The Glen – the neighbourhood that Fontaine, Yo-Yo and Slick are fighting so desperately to protect – is a microcosm, albeit a slightly off-kilter version, of the world. This is a community plagued by lack of opportunity, lack of social mobility, the perils of masculinity, drugs and gun violence. The film does well to explore the cyclical nature of these issues too, the notion of those in power benefitting from neglected communities as well. Of course, Jordan Peele is a hard comparison to live up to and it’s fair to say They Cloned Tyrone doesn’t quite match up to Get Out (2018), but this still feels like a film that is going to do well, spark conversations and garner a solid fanbase.

Everything in They Cloned Tyrone, from costume to language is amped up, over the top to the point of absurd, or it’s boiled down to stereotypes, purposefully, and to interesting effect. Fontaine’s (John Boyega) gold teeth flash during rare smiles and Slick Charles (Jamie Foxx) wears alligator skin shoes.

In stark contrast to their stereotypical costumes, the characters are multi-faceted and complex. Boyega’s Fontaine is a tough nut who cares for a sick mother, and Yo-Yo is a sex worker who reads crime novels and dreams of hiking through Patagonia. Slick is articulate and verbose, why say ‘show me the way,’ when you can say ‘Excuse me, kind sir. But if you can point me to the elevator that leads to the freaky laboratory, I’ll be out your atmosphere’?

The film possibly suffers slightly because of the scope of topics it is trying to tackle. It could easily be double the length. The ending, unfortunately, feels a little rushed, especially after such a brilliant build up. Major plot points are dealt with in a matter of minutes while other moments are lingered on for too long. So much is going on it’s easy to miss a beat.

The culmination of so many ideas seems fitting with Taylor’s eclectic past projects. As a screenwriter, he has worked on movies such as Creed II (2018) and Space Jam: New Legacy (2021), he’s obviously someone who isn’t constrained by genre. This ability to borrow tropes is evident in They Cloned Tyrone. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if anything it could broaden the film’s appeal. Fans of everything from Cabin in the Woods (2011) to Sorry to Bother You (2018) should find things to love.

There is no arguing that They Cloned Tyrone is enjoyable, funny, and entertaining, but it does sometimes miss the mark. Perhaps there are one too many twists, perhaps the title joke doesn’t quite pay off. Perhaps none of that matters when Jamie Foxx is so spectacular.

Score: 19/24

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