Netflix, which distributed They Cloned Tyrone, is one of several studios in the AMPTP. Until the AMPTP is willing to offer both the WGA and SAG a fair contract, both unions are on strike. Their demands, which include better streaming residuals and a promise that AI won’t negatively affect any jobs, are fair and I support both unions in their fight for an appropriate contract. Thus, this declaimer will sit atop all film and tv reviews I write through the end of both strikes.
In 1932, the United States Public Health Service (PHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ran a blood study, known today as the Tuskegee Experiment, on 600 Black men – 399 with latent syphilis, 201 without – from a single town in Alabama. They were told it would last six months and that they would receive free medical care. Instead, the study lasted 40 years, only ending due to a government leak. By this time, over 100 of the men had died. The kicker? By 1947, only 15 years into the study, Penicillin, a drug none of these men were ever given, was the primary treatment for syphilis. It’s this historical nightmare that forms the basis of one of 2023’s most enjoyable Sci-Fi comedies, They Cloned Tyrone.
They Cloned Tyrone is the directorial debut of Juel Taylor (Creed II), who also co-wrote this film with Tony Rettenmaier (Space Jam: A New Legacy). John Boyega plays Fontaine, a drug dealer living in ‘The Glen’. He works out, he drinks, he sells drugs. One night, after an unsuccessful meeting with local pimp Slick Charles (Jamie Foxx) in his motel room, Fontaine gets shot and left for dead by a fellow dealer he hit with his car earlier that day. Fontaine wakes up the next morning with no memory of the night before, and thus, finds himself at Slick Charles’ motel room once again. After he and one of his hoes, Yo-Yo (Teyonah Parris), assure Fontaine they saw him die, the three find themselves in the middle of a conspiracy that spans the entire city.
To go into further detail would spoil some of the best aspects of this film. Unfortunately, it would also spoil some of the worst. A lot of the satire is extremely on-the-nose, and toward the latter half of the film, Taylor and Rettenmaier’s script backs the main characters into an impossible situation, only to pull them right out after a formulaic villain monologue. Any tension the film had is lost, and the final act of the film suffers greatly for it, despite some clever ideas.
Luckily, this film is just as much a comedy as it is science fiction. I would liken it a bit to Edgar Wright’s The World’s End, wherein most of the laughs come from how the main characters react to the crazy snowball of events happening around them. And while Boyega plays the straight man to Foxx’s fast-talking Slick Charles, Parris gets to toe the line between the two and have some great comedic moments for herself. But there’s also a lot of visual gags, such as white guys with afros who talk like they’re Black or a drug dealer who has difficulty showing Boyega the gun he’s holding, and fun references to pop culture throughout the script. I never knew a Dexter’s Lab joke would catch me off-guard, but it did.
As for the performances, Foxx and Parris are a delight, while Boyega gets to show the depth he was unable to in the Star Wars trilogy. It reminded me of an earlier film of his, Attack the Block, which is also an amazing sci-fi comedy from years ago. Again, I don’t want to give too many details away, but as wild as the final act of the film gets, Boyega is given a lot more to do, and he performs his role, or should I say roles, well. Also, a small cameo from David Allen Grier is any film is always welcome. Filmmakers, take note!
The final aspect of this film I’ve waited to talk about is the look. Designed to feel like a Blaxploitation film from the ’70s, many scenes feel too dark. Because of an overabundance of graininess, marriage to style over substance, and the decision to set most of the film in low-light environments makes for a film that is awfully hard to see, especially when you don’t have the luxury of a dark room and a theater-sized screen. I understand Taylor had a specific look in mind, and I’m sure it would look better on the big screen, but for a film released through a streaming platform, some changes should have been made to account for this.
It’s a shame They Cloned Tyrone is as messy as it is as more of the mystery unravels. The acting is good, the comedy is solid, and the twists and turns are a lot of fun. If the latter half of the film hadn’t been steeped in impossible plotting and a strange lack of tension, and if I didn’t have to strain my eyes in some of the film’s darkest scenes, They Cloned Tyrone could have been one of the best films of the year. As it stands, this is simply one of the most enjoyable; A film you’ll enjoy once, but one you’ll be picking it apart if you think too long about it after.
And no, I can’t tell you who Tyrone is.