“Church? Me ain’t going to church. Me and Jesus ain’t right since I pimped this girl named Mary.” This is the kind of language you would expect from a Blaxploitation-era movie, where They Cloned Tyrone takes its inspiration. A somewhat troublesome sub-genre in today’s social climate, Juel Taylor and Tony Rettenmair’s fantastical tale gets past the sociocultural pitfalls by embracing the tropes (yes, fried chicken and afros, they’re all there) and updating its firmware for 2023. Empowered Blaxploitation? I don’t have the correct skin colour to coin a new sub-genre, but it’s there if you want it.
John Boyega plays Tyrone Fontaine, a drug dealer and victim of a revenge killing following a visit to Slick Charles (Jamie Foxx), a pimp who had just fallen out with his best worker, Yo-yo (Teyonah Parris). Tyrone then wakes up the next morning, oblivious to the events of the day before, and returns to Slick as they have unfinished business. Slick is unnerved by his miraculous revival–rightly so–and points this out to Tyrone, who understandably doesn’t buy it. Slick implores him to seek out Yo-yo, who can corroborate his version of events. Yo-yo, who once dreamt of a journalistic career and boasts an unusually comprehensive collection of Nancy Drew books, then convinces Tyrone to investigate his alleged murder, and the trio start their journey down an insidious rabbit hole where they will discover that their beloved town is hiding a rather sinister secret.
This Nancy Drew-esque caper takes on a sci-fi conspiracy theory turn pretty quickly and the seamlessness in which They Cloned Tyrone sifts from one genre to another elevates the movie above the average exploitation-style romp. The writing is sharp as a tack and blends cheese and subtlety with finesse, providing the perfect platform for the trio to shine. In Slick and Yo-yo, they have the perfect comedic foils for the ever-brooding Tyrone and admittedly, much of what makes They Cloned Tyrone charming is down largely to the chemistry of the three leads.
Let’s not forget that you need B-grade schlock to sell the vibe, so it’s important to never get too highbrow. To Juel and Tony’s credit, the pair arguably get the balance just right. They Cloned Tyrone is built around a relatable conspiracy theory that is one-half believable and one-half batshit crazy, though sadly you’ve probably seen worse on the interwebs–satire is a tough business these days. The fact that it doubles up as valid social commentary for our world today, is a welcome bonus. As such, the show is never too campy for its own good and it’s just the right amount of half-baked. Like all teenage mystery stories, the villain might be obvious to some of you but at least the journey will be a satisfying one.
While the concept behind They Cloned Tyrone is somewhat ambitious and checks all the right boxes, the movie can feel a little ‘by the numbers’ and never emotionally engaging in spots; it’s a walking contradiction where its polish belies its rough and ready roots, up to the point that the meticulously crafted setup feels far more gratifying than its explosive conclusion. On the bright side, it’s also a testament to the writers’ craft and hints at the future potential of this sub-genre. The denouement may seem a little abrupt and will leave you feeling like it could have been a lot more satisfying had they had the time or the budget to flesh it out. But it does provide the creators with an opportunity to follow up with a sequel. I do hope it’s not doomed to be one of those underrated films that are too clever for their own good. Either way, They Cloned Tyrone will be hard to err, clone.
- They Cloned Tyrone - 7.5/107.5/10
They Cloned Tyrone
Despite the silliness you’d normally expect from an exploitation-genre trope, They Cloned Tyrone is low-key intelligent and pretty likeable to boot. Funny that it’ll probably rank amongst the better movies you’ll catch this year.