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They Cloned Tyrone (2023) Review

Amidst the chaos of Barbenheimer’s release a few weeks ago, along with Netflix’s notoriously bad promotion, one film seems to have gotten lost in the algorithm, and it’s a crime, because it’s easily one of the best movies to release this year. I’m talking about Juel Taylor’s feature directorial debut, which blends elements of sci-fi, blaxploitation, comedy and mystery to dazzling effect. When a drug dealer returns from the dead, he enlists the help of a sex worker and her pimp to find out exactly how this could’ve happened, eventually uncovering a wide-spanning conspiracy that will forever change his notions of community, friendship and self. As chaotic as the trailer would have you expect, this fun, smart film is not one to miss.

Fans of Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You or Jordan Peele’s Get Out will find a kindred spirit in Taylor’s free-wheeling nods toward absurdist genre elements. This movie is as funny as it is thought-provoking, especially towards the end, when citizens of the Glen decide to unite and fight back. It’s a script bursting with earnest vulnerability, daring to wear its heart on its sleeve when it comes to the social commentary, which was refreshing. In an era where many are starting to recognize that art has always been political, it’s great to see that growing awareness reflected in cultural productions. This isn’t to say the film ever feels overly-didactic or prevents viewers from connecting with the material. I actually think Taylor and co-writer Tony Rettenmaier do a great job of injecting a ton of humor into the dialogue to balance what could’ve been a heavy script considering the very real history of US experimentation on racialized working-class communities. What really makes this script so successful, though, are the actors who brought it to life.

John Boyega does a phenomenal job as Fontaine/Old Fontaine/Tyrone, mixing a kind of stoic viciousness with a raw vulnerability. His character is rough around the edges, but we can always tell there’s an abundance of emotion beneath the surface. Teyonah Parris’ take on Yo-Yo provides a kind of counterweight to this, openly voicing her happiness, fear, hurt or anger. Yo-Yo has dreams, and isn’t afraid to talk about how much she cares about said dreams. It’s a kind of refreshing honesty that’s nicely undercut by Jamie Foxx blaxploitation-esque portrayal of Slick Charles. While Boyega and Parris definitely had the more complex characters, Foxx does as good a job with his material as one can hope, practically stealing a number of scenes with the hilarious commitment he brings to each line. All these actors made these characters feel so lived-in and organic that it really made the script shine; and I’d be remiss to not talk about the visuals.

While there are definitely a few expressionistic moments as far as lighting is concerned, cinematographer Ken Seng grounds us in a sense of place by making clever use of practical lighting, infusing scenes with neon glows and harsh daylight sequences. In many ways, the Glen itself becomes a character, which is a testament to the set design and lighting departments. The visual language overall feels really important to both the genres Taylor and co. are invoking, as well as the themes the film is exploring. Camerawork was always very purposeful but never too calculated or slick, making for a really engaging viewing experience.

If you like movies about the underclasses fighting back, look no further. I definitely think there could have been a deeper exploration into what it means to have one’s social role pre-written for them, and I’ll always argue for tighter dialogue (we don’t need every single thing explained to us—trust the audience!) but overall, it’s a very fun movie. Taylor citing They Live (1988), Groundhog Day (1993) and It Follows (2014) as influences may seem too disparate, but once you see it, you’ll be as amazed by his film’s cohesiveness as I am. Singularly hilarious, you simply must watch this on Netflix!

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