In the wake of the mass hysteria that is the weekend of July 21st, 2023, also known by the masses and now the pop culture zeitgeist as Barbenheimer, very quietly and confidently Netflix also dropped the proverbial bomb with the wildly original film They Cloned Tyrone. Releasing the same day as the Christopher Nolan talkie character study and the Greta Gerwig meta self-aware comedy, co-writer and director Juel Taylor brings all of the spicy flavorings used in the chicken recipe that makes the film a deliciously entertaining fare if you want to wait until the Barbenheimer mania cools off a bit.
They Cloned Tyrone follows John Boyega as a drug dealing hustler who goes by the name Fontaine. Day in and day out, Fontaine reflects on the death of his younger brother, hits the bench press, buys a 40 oz and some scratch offs and takes care of his mom, who never accepts his food offerings. Some may call Fontaine a creature of habit, living in a Groundhog Day like cycle. Occasionally, Fontaine will have to take care of business by roughing up a couple of rival drug dealers with his car and pop in on associates that didn’t pay their dues. That being Slick Charles (Jamie Foxx) who as his name suggests, talks faster than a speeding bullet in the Glen (the fictional yet all too familiar setting).
Co-written by Tony Rettenmaier and Juel Taylor, the narrative begins to take shape after Fontaine collects what he’s owed from Slick Charles. Fontaine in his beef with a rival a drug dealer falls victim to a retaliation, the only witness being one of Slick Charles’ girls Yo-Yo (Teyonah Parris). After witnessing a bizarre event, Fontaine, Charles and Yo-Yo get sucked into a conspiracy that boasts originality in the science fiction genre while reigniting the 70’s Blaxploitation film mixed in with satire and social commentary and paying homage to what came before it.
This is one ride that delivers on the spectacle of unpredictability seemingly around every corner.
Just like its competitor Barbie, Rettenmaier and Taylor fills their screenplay with dozens of references to cinema whether it’s a pointing out similar characters to a film counterpart that reside in this retro futuristic world or taking classic cinema and giving it a 21st century upgrade. What the two films have in common however starts and ends with the greatest of all time Stanley Kubrick. Barbie of course opening up the same way that 2001: A Space Odyssey opens with the hominins but replaced by children and Barbie being the Monolith and They Cloned Tyrone referencing A Clockwork Orange by name on more than one emotionally charged level.
From the screenplay all the way down to the production design by Franco-Giacomo Carbone and the grainy, muted color palette setting the tone, They Cloned Tyrone features a very lived in atmosphere – the neighborhood, music and costume design highlights the retro flair mixed with today’s mainstream everyday life. The vibe catches the eye and the soundtrack, the ear, and as the film gets its legs, Taylor and Rettenmaier add unexpected curveballs that make you feel like you’re part of the experience.
Anyone of us can be clones or plugged into the Matrix.
At the forefront of the film, Boyega is full of raw emotion. In a way he’s the films version of the audience – experiencing these events play out for the first time with the disbelief powering him through to the next discovery and not letting the gravity of the situation stop him for too long. As Fontaine, Boyega’s natural charisma shines through as a sympathetic protagonist (even though he’s technically a bad person) – you feel for him because deep down, he is a good person who does what he can to survive. You’re drawn to him, and Boyega keeps you in his grip throughout the journey.
Jamie Foxx hits the comedic mark with his fast paced cadence and dynamic timing with Boyega. And then there’s Teyonah Parris who holds her own against her co-stars. The three of them together make an energetic and dynamic trio among the craziness that is happening to the Glen and soon learned the entire country.
One of the many themes presented surrounds expectation which leads into the social commentary aspect the film carries on its shoulders. Going back to the Kubrick essence that Rettenmaier and Taylor inject into their films DNA, the themes that A Clockwork Orange heavily feature are some of the very themes that Taylor plays on and gives a fresh coat of paint to. The entertainment value is through the roof and never does the gravity or suggestive implicative messages get in the way of the added charm or levity. But Taylor uses inequality to his films advantage – there’s a clear societal norm that Taylor focuses the lens on which in turn becomes a tool for empowerment. The message is loud and clear – always staying at the front of our thoughts.
Overall, They Cloned Tyrone has an elaborate self-awareness to it while proving to be a fun ride featuring unexpected twists and turns around every corner with a ton of heart just beneath the surface, ready to be explored. And it gets explored, Rettenmaier and Taylor don’t hold back for a second with a lot to say in 119 minutes. One doesn’t come at a sacrifice of the other and Taylor keeps the energy high, and the engagement dialed all the way up. For its genre-bending, Taylor provides a worthy addition into multiple genres that can be seen as a reawakening for Blaxploitation films in a modern world.
Screenplay By: Tony Rettenmaier & Juel Taylor
Directed By: Juel Taylor
Music By: Desmond Murray & Pierre Charles
Cinematography: Ken Seng
Starring: John Boyega, Teyonah Parris, Jamie Foxx, Kiefer Sutherland
Where to Watch: Netflix
Edited By: Saira Haider
Release Date: July 21, 2023
Running Time: 1 Hour 59 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%