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'They Cloned Tyrone' review: An underwritten but stylish sci-fi caper

Courtesy of Netflix


Writer/director Juel Taylor makes his feature debut with the groovy and constrained sci-fi caper “They Cloned Tyone,” a conspiracy action comedy/thriller anchored by John Boyega and a slippery Jamie Foxx. The movie ebbs and flows between several genres and inspirations: on one hand, it’s a pulpy-blaxploitation flick with a glossy 21st century lens ala “Sorry to Bother You,” and on the other, it’s an underwritten genre picture that goes off the rails in the third act. It’s a movie that will be appreciated rather than be remembered, however, Taylor’s film has “cult classic” written all over it, thanks in part to an outlandish premise, and three exceptional performances from Boyega, Foxx, and Teyonah Parris. 

Possessing the swagger of a Spike Lee joint, but lacking some clear emotional connectivity, “They Cloned Tyrone” takes place in a predominantly African-American community where folks religiously chow down at a local fried chicken establishment, spruce their hair with chemicals, and drink sodas that make them feel all fuzzy. Boyega plays Tyrone, a drug dealer contending with rivals breaching his domain and a confidant who never pays on time: that’d be the uproarious pimp Sick Charles. Played with the bravado as if James Brown was embodied by Jerry Lee Lewis, Foxx’s Sick Charles is a wisecracking, street-smart hustler who is keen to remind everyone he was the 1995 Players’ Ball Pimp of the Year. His best asset is Parris’ Yo-Yo, who’s desperately looking for a way out of the game. 

Shit hits the fan after Tyone is killed outside Sick Charles motel and then shows up the next day like nothing happened. (How could this brother with eight shots to the chest be walking around nonchalantly?) Charles, Tyrone, and Yo-Yo hop on the case, leading them towards various developments which includes an underground bunker, which has something to do with how Tyrone exists in the way he does, and why people are so dangerously addicted to fried chicken and the chemicals in their hair. 

During the first hour, “They Cloned Tyrone” stays grounded and gritty as the characters unravel the mystery, but when the secrets inevitably reveal themselves, it removes a layer of intrigue the movie had built up. High concept genre movies are never easy to pull off, and this one juggles shady government organizations, the distortion of reality, and, obviously, clones to an extent that it becomes tiresome. Still, the movie has its charm, namely the energetic presences of the main trio, and especially Foxx who is having the time of his life, which is enough to keep casual viewers intrigued. But the movie stumbles in its explanation as to how or why the bad guys must clone people in the first place? It ends up leaving you in a weird, admirable trance with more questions than answers. 

Grade: B-

THEY CLONED TYRONE streams on Netflix Friday, July 21st.   


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