3.5 out of 5 stars

Creed II (2018) co-writer Juel Taylor’s feature film debut, They Cloned Tyrone, follows an unlikely trio who uncover a government cloning conspiracy. Fontaine (John Boyega) is a drug dealer in the Glen, a neighbourhood out of place and time, characterised by boxy televisions, eccentric clothing, and ironic license plates reading ‘A Swell Place.’

After Fontaine goes to a motel to retrieve money from fast-talking pimp Slick Charles (Jamie Foxx), he’s murdered by a rival but wakes up the next day unscathed and without any memory of his grisly demise. And with no explanation for his resurrection, he teams up with Slick Charles and one of his sex workers, Yo-Yo (Teyonah Parris), to find answers.

While the story isn’t necessarily unique and retreads familiar ground concerning government conspiracies and cloning, They Cloned Tyrone finds power in the absurdity of its situation and the exploration of race in modern-day America. Fontaine himself is a black man whom the police shot multiple times and left for dead, stuck in this bad neighbourhood selling drugs to help care for his shut-in mother.

As Fontaine, Slick Charles, and Yo-Yo delve deeper into the mystery of the former’s death and resurrection, they find answers to the most common Black American stereotypes. The plot points are unsubtle but contribute to a feeling of unchallenged government oversight that aptly criticises the current US society. Even when Fontaine and the neighbours are left to fend for themselves, the government is there to spy and experiment on them. But despite its tight social critique, the film lacks the creativity of more memorable sci-fi films.

They Cloned Tyrone’s true appeal is down to its incredible cast. John Boyega, post-Star Wars, has proven his dramatic acting abilities, disappearing into the tragic character of Fontaine seamlessly, while Foxx again proves his comedic chops as a bumbling and reluctant sidekick who confronts his own life decisions in a freeing way. He could have been more developed as he often gets overshadowed by his co-stars, but Foxx makes Slick Charles memorable nonetheless thanks to some perfect line deliveries. “If you keep talking, I’m-a slip outta his Goodwill suit and slap that fake-ass wig off your fake-ass head, with nothing but my Gucci boxers on and get back in this coat before it gets wrinkled.”

However, even with one of Boyega’s best performances and Foxx at the top of his game, it’s Teyonah Parris (WandaVision) who steals the show. She holds her own with equally quippy dialogue but with emotional depth to a character who could so easily have been written off as a joke. The interactions between the three are always surprising and hilarious, their relationships born out of necessity and evolving deeper connections.

Juel Taylor draws excellent performances from his three leads, especially for a first outing behind the camera. He also finds the perfect ways to frame everyone on screen, revealing secrets to the audience as the characters discover them for themselves. The whole production deserves praise for They Cloned Tyrone’s unique look and sound design, including amazing sets that are a combination of recognizable places lit by fluorescent lights to give the film a 1970s feel. The score by composers Desmond Murray and Pierre Charles is also unique and helps breathe life into this peculiar world.

Originally a Black List screenplay by Taylor and co-writer Tony Rettenmaier, the film stumbles in the third act once it introduces some shadowy villains via an underwhelming twist that feels forced by theme instead of plausible motivations. A lack of tension also makes the climax less gripping than it might have been, and the resolution feels inevitable. However, a last-minute reveal after an end credits title card delivers a more satisfying conclusion to the fun if clumsy plot.

Despite its stumbles, They Cloned Tyrone offers audiences a fun time. It’s powered by three sharp performances, contains some dazzling cinematography, and there’s a memorable offbeat score. It won’t win any major awards, but it’s the kind of film studios shouldn’t be afraid to make more of. Celebrated scripts paired with a fresh filmmaking voice, being used as an interesting vehicle for good actors. It’s the perfect response to an industry dominated by mega-budget blockbusters that so often underperform in cinemas. They Cloned Tyrone is a great example of the diversification of projects we should be seeing, with fewer superheroes and more low-risk gambles on two-hour sci-fi comedies that entertain and enlighten.

USA | 2023 | 119 MINUTES | 2.00:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

director: Juel Taylor.
writers: Tony Rettenmaier & Juel Taylor.
starring: John Boyega, Teyonah Parris, Jamie Foxx, Kiefer Sutherland & David Alan Grier.