It’s not often that a film can be accurately described as a sci-fi, mystery, action-comedy, thriller and Blaxploitation. It’s a credit to Juel Taylor — here making his directorial debut — that They Cloned Tyrone’s mishmash of genres doesn’t result in a tonal mess. Rather, it’s a consistently hilarious ride, where the laughs never dull the poignant, sharply observed messages at its centre.
It doesn’t take long for Taylor and co-writer Tony Rettenmaier’s screenplay to cut to the chase. When Fontaine (John Boyega) is shot to death, only to awaken the next day with no memory of his demise, he starts searching for reasons why, roping in the initially reluctant pimp Slick Charles (Jamie Foxx) and streetsmart sex worker Yo-Yo (Teyonah Parris) for the ride. The answer — that he’s a clone — is just the tip of the iceberg.
It’s a blast to follow the trio as they scramble to figure out the extent of the conspiracy, which becomes wilder and wilder with each new piece of the puzzle. Many of the twists and turns are too good to spoil, but suffice to say the film has a lot on its mind, from the interrogation of Black stereotypes, to the systemic oppression of Black folk by the White Man, and more.
Jamie Foxx's double act with Teyonah Parris is an energetic, unpredictable joy.
It would all feel a lot less potent if the setting wasn’t just right, but They Cloned Tyrone’s world — an alternative present-day universe that’s populated with ostentatious 1970s cars and ‘Hotbox Fried Chicken’ chains — feels authentically and unapologetically Black from its first frame. The fashion is frequently eye-popping (Slick Charles’ wardrobe of jackets is especially fetching) and the funky, bass-heavy score by Desmond Murray and Pierre Charles meshes well with the astutely curated soundtrack, which features bangers from Erykah Badu, Bootsy Collins and Diana Ross. The whole thing is shot with a scratchy, fuzzy, era-authentic film grain — as if projected on 35mm in some dusty old grindhouse.
It helps that the central trio have such strong chemistry, too. Foxx’s Slick Charles is a riot, rattling off one-liners at a high clip (almost all of them land) but also peppering in moments of vulnerability when the moment suits. His double act with Parris — who thrives as it becomes clearer that Yo-Yo is the smartest, steeliest member of the group — is an energetic, unpredictable joy. And then there’s Boyega. His Fontaine is initially a man of few words but lots of attitude, and Boyega’s impressive physicality means there’s often no need for dialogue. When it does come, his accent work really stands out, especially in the film’s conclusion — you would be forgiven for thinking he was an American if you didn’t know he was a Brit. Together, they’re the Blaxploitation heroes we deserve, and need.