Ciara Whelan reviews the mid-summer Netflix hit film They Cloned Tyrone (2023) and gives it some of the much-needed love that it deserves.
Amidst the global box office phenomenon that is Barbenheimer, the battle for IMAX release amongst Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part 1 and others, and the slate of fantastic films released over the summer at a range of esteemed film festivals, the mid-summer Netflix release They Cloned Tyrone (2023) directed by Juel Taylor has slipped under the radar of public recognition and praise. This tragedy is revealed when viewing the film and finding that this genre-bending mystery is a stylish homage to blaxploitation cinema and a genuinely funny absurdist comedy.
The film follows Fontaine (John Boyega), a small-time drug dealer from a retrofuturistic American town, stuck in a depressive cycle of crime and consumption until he’s shot and killed in a drive-by shooting outside of the local dive motel. When he wakes again the next morning to start his day again, local pimp Slick Charles (Jamie Foxx) and his best girl Yo-Yo (Teyonah Parris) don’t know what to believe and the three decide to figure things out for themselves. Following the discovery of a secret government laboratory deep in the belly of their town, the unlikely threesome begins to solve the mystery plaguing them and their home and finds far more than any of them bargained for. Their investigations plant them at the centre of a secret government plot and provoke a range of twists and turns that will leave the viewer guessing until the film’s final moments.
This bitingly funny tale with a steady political undercurrent is the perfect bit of Friday night entertainment for film fans of comedic political satire and the stylised work of legendary black auteurs like Spike Lee and Jordan Peele. Taylor and Tony Rettenmaier’s script provides witty and sharp dialogue from beginning to end, and the smooth delivery of every line means the film’s success is hinged on its trifecta of leading performances. Jamie Foxx in the role of stylish if stereotyped pimp is the standout of the film, delivering line after line of quick and iconic dialogue.
This bitingly funny tale with a steady political undercurrent is the perfect bit of Friday night entertainment for film fans of comedic political satire and the stylised work of legendary black auteurs like Spike Lee and Jordan Peele.
Though a tour de force in its own right, They Cloned Tyrone could be described as The Twilight Zone meets blaxploitation film in the twenty-first century. The local is juxtaposed with the national with the reveal of a secret government facility in the depth of the Glen, and this serves to subvert the thematic conventions of the blaxploitation flick that typically limited the narrative to the lower-income urban neighbourhood. The aesthetics of the blaxploitation film are blended with the modern infrastructure of the Glen neighbourhood to produce a film that feels both familiar and new, that is reflective of a key historical body of cinema and is still a fresh work of visual storytelling.
In summary, please watch They Cloned Tyrone. In the modern era of cinema that is dominated by conglomerate streaming giants seeking to reproduce recognisable film products, this film is an original and inventive story with a strong thematic and visual basis in cinema history, and above all else, it’s a whole lot of fun.