They Cloned Tyrone

After going about his daily routine of hitting Got Dranks! for a Mega Cash scratcher and a 40 he shares with old man Frog outside, Fontaine (John Boyega) hits a rival drug dealer’s guy with his 1973 Chevrolet Caprice before heading home to get dinner for his mom.   When Big Moss (Eric Robinson Jr.) shows up short on drug payments, Fontaine heads out to The Royal Motel himself, where he’s shot to death in retaliation for the afternoon’s incident.  Pimp Slick Charles (Jamie Foxx), the guy who owed him money, is flabbergasted when Fontaine shows up again the next day and Charles’s ho Yo-Yo’s (Teyonah Parris) Nancy Drew aspirations lead them to a trap house where a secret elevator descends to the lab where “They Cloned Tyrone.”

Laura's Review: B

Cowriter (with Tony Rettenmaier)/director Juel Taylor’s period-blurring Blaxploitation comedy turned sci-fi social satire starts off hilariously before turning semi-serious for its third act revolution, which is a little long in coming, before bouncing back with a world-expanding wrap.  “They Cloned Tyrone” is a racial take on John Carpenter’s “They Live” that is smart and funny while also boasting a fabulous cast and craft. 

Everything about The Glen appears stereotypical of a black community, so much so that it invites the giggles.  Fontaine, the drug dealer with his gold grill and high crown spikes, slumps in front of a TV advertising Got Damn! Fried Chicken.  But he’s also soulful and considerate, still mourning the death of a young brother and tending to his mom from behind her bedroom door.

We see the same dichotomy in Slick Charles, who proudly announces he was the 1995 winner of the International Player’s Ball and gets all nostalgic over his furs and maroon leather but is genuinely distressed when Yo-Yo walks out.  She’s his number one ‘ho’ who wants to invest in blockchain, go back to college and backpack in Patagonia, a woman with smarts and ambition stuck in a losing proposition.

Before they find Tyrone’s (Fontaine’s first name) clone, we begin to pick up clues, like Frog mumbling ‘straighter is greater,’ the jingle from Perm Cream ads.  Slick takes note of Fontaine laughing, something out of character, as the trio eat fried chicken before noticing every patron in the place is laughing too.  A Church preacher (David Alan Grier) and dance club DJ are a little too hypnotic, mind control masquerading as sermon and song.  But just as Yo-Yo’s about to send the proof she’s gathered to the Post, she’s made by Biddy (Tamberla Perry) screaming her name from across the street and she’s whisked away in a big black SUV before her envelope hits the mailbox.  Fontaine makes a community appeal to his rival Isaac (J. Alphonse Nicholson) and, along with Slick, an army descends to save Yo-Yo and free the clones.

Boyega is this film’s straight man, doing the heavy emotional lifting (at least until a surprisingly romantic moment between Slick and Yo-Yo near film’s end) and the actor seems older, Fontaine carrying the heavy weight of his brother’s death.  He’s also called upon to create multiple characters but to reveal more would be a spoiler.  Foxx just about steals the show as the pimp hanging on by his manicured fingertips, his artful comic timing and tossed off commentary skillfully balanced with the fear of irrelevance in his eyes.  Parris is the film’s fuel, Yo-Yo’s forced underachievement an energy reserve that bursts forth when her sleuthing ability becomes useful.

Taylor’s concept is brought to life by a talented production designer Franco-Giacomo Carbone, who’s made The Glen look like a place that’s seen better days.  Costume designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuck complements his work with character defining color coordination supported by distinctive hairstyling and makeup.  The film is accompanied by a score influenced from Mayfield to Motown punctuated with soundtrack selections like Michael Jackson’s ‘Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough, Diana Ross’s ‘Love Hangover’ and Erykah Badu’s reimagined version of ‘Tyrone.’

With “They Cloned Tyrone,” Juel Taylor gives us the best of both worlds, a piece of entertainment that makes us think.

Robin's Review: B

Netflix releases "They Cloned Tyrone" in select theaters on 7/14/23.  It begins streaming on 7/21/23.