Review: They Cloned Tyrone Pops Visually, and as a Sharp Parody of Conspiracy Movies

There’s just enough crazy going on in this directing debut from Juel Taylor (writer of Creed II, Shooting Stars, and of course, Space Jam: A New Legacy) to make it something very special as it embraces a unique brand of science-fiction that dives into the type of paranoia that can only result from generations of being ignored and abused as a people. They Cloned Tyrone takes place in a community called the Glen that seems to operate like most urban centers do. It has plenty of good people in it to keep the fast-food places and clubs about as well attended as the churches. 

But it also has its share of bottom feeders, including a drug dealer named Fontaine (John Boyega, Attack the Block), a prostitute named Yo-Yo (Teyonah Parris, If Beale Street Could Talk, Candyman, the upcoming The Marvels), and a pimp named Slick Charles (Jamie Foxx), and it somehow seems important that the balance and rhythms that make up this place remain in place no matter what. But one day after Fontaine is seemingly shot dead by a rival dealer, he wakes up in his bed with no memory of being shot, and almost without fail, he slips back into his routines as if he was programmed to do so. He knocks on his mother’s bedroom door in their apartment, and she gives him some excuse for not coming out, he buys the same scratch-off lottery ticket, and gives the same homeless guy a little booze out of his bottle.

But when he runs into Yo-Yo and Charles that day, they panic because they both witnessed him getting mowed down the day before, and before long, they are exploring the neighborhood with a bit more purpose, when they discover a secret elevator that leads to an underground lab that has among its contents Fontaine’s actual dead body. As they put the pieces together, it becomes clear despite the improbability that he has been cloned and replaced rather methodically by whomever is in charge, and it becomes this ill-equipped team's goal to find out just who is doing this and why.

With the help of a little luck and an overly detailed monologue by a nameless government agent (played by the very fun Kiefer Sutherland), the group begins to piece together some legitimately disturbing truths about what is really going on in America’s biggest urban centers, all in a misguided attempt to strike a balance in order to keep these communities under some sort of control. The level of wildness in the plotting (the screenplay was co-written by Taylor and Tony Rettenmai) almost puts They Cloned Tyrone into the category of modern blaxploitation, if there even is such a genre.

The closer you look at the backgrounds of each scene, the more you begin to understand that something about this place is deeply off. The film has a great deal to say about politicians, poverty, religion, and the strength of a community to rally together to solve outside threats (they aren’t always the best about threats from within, but that’s another movie). Once all of the secrets are more or less revealed, the film might lose a bit of its appeal to some, but I found it fascinating to watch Boyega play a tough-guy character who isn’t good about showing emotion trying to still find ways of letting us know that his views on the way the world works are melting down. Something about They Cloned Tyrone pops, both visually and thematically. 

To cap it off, the filmmakers got Erika Badu to re-record her classic live song “Tyrone” with new lyrics that reflect the story of the movie. It plays over the end credits and it’s hilarious. And it’s the perfect ending to this energized, hormonal, and sharp parody of conspiracy films that feels ultra-modern and yet timeless.

The film is now streaming on Netflix.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.