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‘They Cloned Tyrone’ Is A Sufficient Blaxploitation Homage – Review

*This review was published during the ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. At GoC, we fully support the creatives who are part of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes.

(Courtesy of Netflix)

Remember that scene in Boyz n the Hood when Furious Styles is lecturing Tre and Ricky about gentrification? Imagine that message wrapped inside an eccentric and rebellious satire. Then you’d have the new Netflix original film They Cloned Tyrone.

While unclear when precisely this film takes place (my guess is like 2007 based on the flip phones), They Cloned Tyrone offers a unique fusion of Afrofuturism and the blaxploitation genre that takes a moment to settle into. First-time director Juel Taylor creates the bold new world of “The Glen,” a fictional town that feels like a ubiquitous representation of every hood in America. The cartoonish “Got Damn! Fried Chicken” restaurant and “Got Drank” liquor store both serve as some introductory, surface-level satire on the kinds of businesses that white power structures poison Black communities with. But underneath the surface, something deeper is afoot.

Without going too deep into spoilers, the mystery at the center of They Cloned Tyrone is just as bizarre as the world. But its resolution? It’s easy to see coming, especially if you’re familiar with the blaxploitation genre and tropes. What makes this 2023 flick different are its themes and cinematic approach. Thematically, the film dives head-first into the “hustle harder” mentality of entrepreneurship, a subject the movie subversively demystifies with a powerful message of community togetherness. That’s one of many themes that director Taylor and co-writer Tony Rettenmaier slip into the script.

Visually, They Cloned Tyrone tones down on the Dutch angles, bombastic crash zooms, and over-the-top montage editing without regard to continuity were all common in many blaxploitation films of the ’70s. Instead, this flick feels straightforward and contemporary, taking itself more seriously than its inspirations. The camera is more low-key with longer takes, allowing the pace of the edit to move at a comparatively slower rate. These choices aren’t particularly memorable but aren’t distracting either, allowing the actors much more space to bring their characters to life.

(Courtesy of Netflix)

The biggest draw of They Cloned Tyrone is the performances. Led by a stoic, machismo-fueled John Boyega, Fontaine is the top dawg hustler in “The Glen,” whose tough guy persona is a front for mourning his late little brother Ronnie. What initially seemed like a relatively one-note characterization evolved into a noteworthy display of warmth and range as we learn more about his backstory. Fontaine’s ice-cold demeanor contrasted with the kookiness of the environment around him, making for a few hilarious interactions. Coming a long way from the Star Wars bubble, Boyega has strung out many great performances lately – including a breathtaking turn in last year’s Breaking.

Academy Award-winner Jamie Foxx and The Marvels actress Teyonah Parris star alongside Boyega as a zany pimp/prostitute duo. Still holding on to his 1995 International Player Ball win, Foxx’s Slick Charles is a caricature of funk icons past his prime, playing a washed-up amalgamation of James Brown, Rick James, and every one of our grandmas had us listen to while cleaning the house. And as awful as pimps are in real life, pimps like Slick Charles are redeemable in The Glen. You cannot help but root for Slick Charles’ endless charisma, which pairs perfectly with Yo Yo’s endless ambition. That’s why Yo Yo (Teyonah Parris) sticks around to help solve the mystery using her Nancy Drew-taught detective skills. Foxx and Parris bounce off each other so well, thanks to their witty dialogue adding loads of comic value to the story.

 As interesting as the story and performances are, the movie has difficulty overcoming its drab, unlit cinematography. The energy these actors bring does not match the lifelessness of this color palette. Naturally, the grittier look helps sell the roughness of the Glen, but there’s a fine line between “dark” and “underexposed” that the film couldn’t thread successfully. This ugly muddle of an aesthetic is an acquired taste that was impossible to ignore, especially during the film’s first half. After spending about an hour or so fine-tuning your eyes to kinda see what’s happening on screen, the story becomes much more enjoyable. This enjoyment is additionally aided by the fact that the film rams up the narrative significantly in its latter half.

They Cloned Tyrone is a sufficient blaxploitation send-up with great performances and botched cinematography. This new Netflix original elevates above its 70s-based influences by incorporating modern themes and an empowering message. There’s nothing cooler than seeing a Black first-time feature filmmaker burst into Hollywood with a bold and unique perspective. I’m very much looking forward to seeing with Juel Taylor does in the future…just hope he finds another DP next time.

Rating: 7.5/10

They Cloned Tyrone is now streaming on Netflix.

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