“They Cloned Tyrone,” directed by Juel Taylor, has blaxploitation meet conspiracy-based Sci-Fi of the ilk of “They Live” or “The Invasion of Body Snatchers.” In addition, it is a satire with an eclectic team of colorful lead characters. Needless to mention that this audaciously multidirectional attempt could have gone completely haywire. However, it does not. It remains bonkers and wild. But, despite some pitfalls, it is largely an excellent mixture of all its inspirations, buoyed by some electrifying performances from Jamie Foxx, John Boyega, and especially Teyonah Parris.
Fontaine (John Boyega) is a small-time drug dealer who immediately pisses off his rival when the film starts, sealing his fate. Or so it seems. When Fontaine tries to get the money that is owed to him from the local pimp, Slick Charles (Jamie Foxx), he gets ambushed by the rival gang’s leader. Fontaine takes multiple gunshot wounds and dies. At least, that is what it looked like before we saw him waking up and repeating all the steps he did before getting shot.
Except this time, Slick Charles is shocked to see him alive because the previous day’s shooting happened right across his door. He saw Fontaine die, and then his body was picked up by a black SUV. YoYo (Teyonah Parris), a sex worker begrudgingly working for Slick Charles, also corroborates the story. Confronted by this impossible scenario of a dead man returning, this unlikely trio, thus, embarks on an adventure that YoYo succinctly points out as ‘Nandy Drew shit.’ Their first night out takes them to a decrepit house with an underground lab. A lab, where, amidst a lot of eerie experiments involving test tubes and beakers, they find the thoroughly dead body of Fontaine.
Written by Taylor and Tony Rettenmaier, “They Cloned Tyrone” relies heavily on all the quirky events that happen to its fascinating trio and the Sci-Fi conspiracy that ties the story together. The dynamic between the three of them is the key that allows the film to keep its audience engrossed throughout its two hours duration. It enables Taylor and Rettenmaier to go wild in the third act because, by now, they have created characters who we would love to see do anything at all. Even if that means eating fried chicken and laughing maniacally.
Taylor, along with his cinematographer, Ken Seng, and the production design team, perfectly captures the mood and environment that is synonymous with 70s blaxploitation films. A bold choice, which could have backfired to become a caricature if not done in the right measures. But Taylor navigates “Tyrone” well to steer clear of that. Resultantly, “They Cloned Tyrone” becomes hilarious but not ludicrous.
At the risk of repetition, “They Cloned Tyrone” relies on its lead characters. And these characters are etched to perfection by the performances of the lead cast. Jamie Foxx’s Slick Charles is flamboyant with a panache for great vocabulary. Foxx is at his humorous best. As YoYo, Teyonah Parris is electrifying as the sex worker trapped in the mundane life of a dead-end place. She holds her own in any conversation with her profanity-laced wisdom. Her hilarious riffs with Foxx’s Charles are some of the best moments in the film. She elevates the film every time she appears on the screen.
On the other hand, Boyega’s Fontaine is the classic Sci-Fi antihero protagonist. If Foxx and Parris carry the comedy part of the film on their shoulders, it was the task of Boyega to propel the Science Fiction story and be the emotional cornerstone for the socio-economical criticism that is implied in this satire. Kiefer Sutherland’s cameo as the villainous enforcer of the authorities, the “they” of the film’s title, is a nice addition. Incidentally, Kiefer Sutherland’s father, Donald Sutherland, was one of the leads of the 1978 remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” which is one of the film’s inspirations.
The Sci-Fi puritans might snigger at some of the choices made by “Tyrone” at the climax. However, those choices only make “Tyrone” even more zany, something the film has committed to from the get-go. It does not feel too outlandish as it is within the tonal perimeters of the film. Special praise could be bestowed on Taylor for the clever twist on the title of the film. ‘Tyrone’s’ identity keeps the mystique alive till the very end.