‘They Cloned Tyrone’ review: Uneven but fun blaxploitation satire
(Credit: Netflix)

Film Reviews

‘They Cloned Tyrone’ review: Uneven but fun blaxploitation satire

'They Cloned Tyrone' - Juel Taylor

In his directorial debut, Juel Taylor etches out a sleek genre-bending blaxploitation satire about clones, mind control, and government conspiracies, seamlessly weaving in absurdist and neo-noir motifs. While it may exhibit moments of unevenness, They Cloned Tyrone still makes for an entertaining ride with the potential to become a cult favourite. 

Based on a screenplay by Taylor and Tony Rettenmaier, the film stars three powerhouse performers, John Boyega, Teyonah Parris, and Jamie Foxx and an extended cameo by Kiefer Sutherland. 

They Cloned Tyrone draws upon the familiar scapes presented in recent cultural gems like Atlanta, Sorry to Bother You, Get Out, and Us. Ken Seng’s cinematography paints a canvas full of visual brilliance. Desmond Murray and Pierre Charles’s musical choices include oddly nostalgic notes and help amp up the drama. And the overarching anatomy of coolness visible in the film easily makes it a worthy addition to the ever-cool and subversive Afro-Surrealist genre.

The story unfurls in a low-income, crime-riddled black neighbourhood teeming with visceral intensity. The gritty colours, neon lights, and grainy texture of the film add to the overall dark, retrofuturistic vibe. Boyega’s Fontaine is a drug dealer at loggerheads with a rising rival. Foxx plays the flamboyant pimp Slick Charles, who loves whining about his ungrateful cohort of sex workers, Yo-Yo, played by Parris, being his star earner. They are all deliberately boxed in as exaggerated caricatures, designed to play a part in the grand scheme of things.

Things take a sudden turn when Slick Charles encounters the obliviously resurrected Fontaine after witnessing his death in a violent shootout. A frantic coked-up energy seeps in. Like rap lyrics superimposed on top of slow and sombre jazz beats. The pacing of the dialogues from this point on matches this change in rhythm.

While Yo-Yo, Charles, and Fontaine navigate a world of spiked perm creams, coded music, and mind-altering fried chicken, a manic energy kicks in, making They Cloned Tyrone a trippy audio-visual experience.

Watching Yo-Yo as a sex worker feels strange; as if something is out of place. It’s like watching Monica Rambeau (Parris’ character in the Marvel-verse) playing an undercover role. Foxx brings his neurotic and amusing energy to Slick Charles, the tiny golden gun-toting souteneur. Together, their costumes give major Halloween recreation potential. And with his massive talent on display, Boyega proves what was Disney’s loss is ultimately our gain.

Taylor does an excellent job of building the oppressive atmosphere of a world where you have the foreboding sense of constant surveillance. The film utilises instances of unethical experiments run by the US government on its black populace without their knowledge, in addition to relying on conspiracy theories, meta-humour, and relevant pop culture references.

The fact that the Nancy Drew-loving Yo-Yo has a childhood room painted in shades of her signature colour, yellow, is just another visual element that underlines the insanity of the situation. In the language of film, yellow is often associated with joy and idealism but also sickness, mania, and lunacy.

They Cloned Tyrone takes swings at existential queries, “Are we all just slaves to our circumstances?” But it sticks to being a fun, pulpy escapade largely, unlike Atlanta or Sorry to Bother You which are purposely fueled with more black angst.

It may not be a flawless debut, but Juel Taylor’s direction and the stellar performances from the cast make They Cloned Tyrone a film worth experiencing.

They Cloned Tyrone arrives on Netflix on July 21st, 2023.