They Cloned Tyrone (2023) poster

They Cloned Tyrone (2023)


USA. 2023.


Director – Juel Taylor, Screenplay – Tony Rettenmaier & Juel Taylor, Producers – Jamie Foxx, Charles D. King, Stephen “Dr.” Love, Tony Rettenmaier, Juel Taylor & Datari Turner, Photography – Ken Seng, Music – Pierre Charles & Desmond Murray, Visual Effects Supervisor – Nicholas Johnson, Visual Effects – Crafty Apes (Supervisor – Mark LeDoux), Special Effects Supervisor – Mark Byers, Production Design – Franco-Giacomo Carbone. Production Company – Macro Media.


John Boyega (Fontaine Chamberlain/Chester/Tyrone), Jamie Foxx (Slick Charles), Teyonah Parris (Yo-Yo), Kiefer Sutherland (Nixon), J. Alphonse Nicholson (Isaac), Leon Lamah (Frog), Tamberla Perry (Biddy), Eric Robinson Jr (Big Moss), Trayce Malachi (Junebug), David Alan Grier (The Preacher), Austin Freeman (Bespectacled Tech), David Shae (Chicken Manager), Ryan Denning (Cleanroom Suit Guy)


Fontaine is a drug dealer in the inner-city neighbourhood of The Glen. He goes to the pimp Slick Charles wanting payment of moneys owed but is shot in the parking lot outside. Fontaine then wakes up unaffected but with full memories of being shot. He goes back to Slick Charles, trying to puzzle out what happened. Joined by Slick Charles’s hoe Yo-Yo, the three of them follow a trail to a house where they discover a hidden elevator leading down to a laboratory. There Fontaine is shocked to find his body with a bullet hole in it. Investigating further, they discover that the entire neighbourhood is connected by a network of tunnels that lead to a laboratory complex from where the residents are being experimented on with mind control drugs placed in the fried chicken, hair product and communion grape juice at the local church. As the secrets start to come out, these hold discoveries about Fontaine’s true nature.

They Cloned Tyrone was a directorial debut for Juel Taylor, who had previously acted as a screenwriter on Creed II (2018) and Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021).

It took me a long time to get into They Cloned Tyrone. The first twenty minutes of the film are shot in a dark, murky gloom where the lighting level has been so reduced it is frequently difficult to make out the features of the actors in a scene. Juel Taylor takes us through the seedier side of a ghetto community as we follow John Boyega’s encounters with various drug dealings, street prostitutes, hangers on around the area and Jamie Foxx’s pimp. Certainly, the scene where John Boyega is shot and then comes around again seemingly unaffected wakes the film up, but the twenty minutes getting there feel like they comes without focus or characters we can identify with. Almost certainly, a studio-backed film would have mandated that these scenes be trimmed down for pacing. I usually give a film (at least one I don’t have to write up) its first thirty minutes to hold my interest or else switch off – I found it a struggle engaging with They Cloned Tyrone and without the scene where Boyega is shot and wakes up, I am not sure it would have kept watching.

On the other hand, the point when John Boyega wakes up is when the film starts to pick up considerably. In an interview in The NY Times, Juel Taylor describes the characters as “a bootleg Scooby-Doo … there was a joke that I had … A pimp, a prostitute and a drug dealer walk into a bar. What if we made them the heroes?” The film starts to engage as we follow the three comically inept characters on the trail of the mystery caper. And all conducted with hairstyles and costuming that homage Blaxploitation Cinema.

Teyonah Parris, Jamie Foxx and John Boyega in They Cloned Tyrone (2023)
(l to r) Teyonah Parris, Jamie Foxx and John Boyega

What is particularly good here is the trio of performances from the three actors. If you didn’t know otherwise, you would never guess that Fontaine is played by John Boyega, Finn from the third Star Wars trilogy, least of all a British actor – Finn seemed like a teenager, whereas Fontaine seems like grown man who has lived in the ghetto his whole life. Jamie Foxx, the most high-profile name present, plays like a majorly disgruntled version of Samuel L. Jackson where Jackson’s sarcasm has been replaced by a sour pissed-off attitude. The find among these is Teyonah Parris who plays with an energy that frequently outshines the veteran names of the trio.

Once proceedings get the trio down into the laboratory amid all manner of explanations about the churches, convenience stores, fried chicken franchises and other buildings around the area acting as fronts for a secretive laboratory where the populace is being experimented on with mind altering drugs placed in everything from soda to fried chicken to hair styling product to the grape juice used for communion wine, the film starts to get into a wonderfully edgy arena of Paranoia. When Kiefer Sutherland turns up as the mastermind behind it all, amid revelations about Illicit Experiments being conducted on the African-American populace in an effort to control society, this digs down into US race relations in ways that are quite disturbing – you have only to look to the Tuskegee Experiments and MK Ultra to find that it is only a couple of twists of the dial in terms of exaggeration on things that the US government had already done. The existential nightmare where John Boyega undergoes a Conceptual Breakthrough to understand his true purpose and the scene where he enters into his mother’s room makes this into some really great writing.

It is a film that feels as though it could only have been written by someone who has grown up in the ghetto – as Juel Taylor explains in the above interview it was him putting down on script some of the paranoid theories he had heard growing up. The easy comparison most critics made was to the satire of Sorry to Bother You (2018) but that tended to the more surrealistic, what we have here is something that resembles more the likes of the edgy, almost believable paranoia of The President’s Analyst (1967) and its scenes with the telephone company planting microchips in the populace.

Trailer here

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