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They Cloned Tyrone (2023) Review: Adventures in science, through the old hood

I’ve always wanted a clone, but finding out you are one has to be quite the predicament. How do we decide which one of us gets to wear the TMNT shirt out? Who picks what to watch on Netflix? Does this mean I always win the vote for where to eat on Fridays?

None of those things are problems the characters face in They Cloned Tyrone, a wild mishmash of drama and science fiction that surprised many viewers with its fresh take and stellar cast. The title may appear to reveal too much about the story, but it’s there to pull viewers in and help nudge them past the initial shock, leaving minds open to some tough themes or just an enjoyable ride that doesn’t hinge on a clever twist.

I love a good genre-swapper, something that presents itself as one brand of cinema and then brings in another — usually immensely different in concept or tone – either creating a new layer for the story and characters to deal with or inviting in themes that aren’t often discussed by certain archetypes. I doubt that the idea was, “What if pimps were cloned,” but that’s the lively kernel I came away with, and I hope we see more projects like this.

Fontaine – whose first name is presumably Tyrone – is a local drug dealer who attempts to defend his territory in a brutal — yet non-lethal — way, but runs afoul of a few bullets because of this, meeting his death, witnesses and all. He wakes up the next morning, however, and goes about his day like usual before observing something strange in the neighborhood and is even more confused when people start telling him they were present for his execution. This leads him, a pimp named Slick Charles, and a soon-to-be-retired prostitute called Yo-Yo on an adventure through a chicken restaurant, hair salon, house of worship, and underground labs, all in an attempt to uncover who is behind this weird science and what it means for their home.

The Black Triforce

Sounds mismatched but quite enjoyable, right? There’s more to unpack there, but first, we need to highlight the film’s true charm – its cast. Fontaine is played by John Boyega, and it’s hard not to think about his role in 2011’s Attack the Block when seeing the actor in another excellent sci-fi story. This character is the doer, a go-getter, someone willing to make tough decisions and take charge when needed until one discovery shatters that strength. He’s quiet, possessing a fierce stoicism that almost hides the soft spot he holds for many in his community, as long as they don’t stand in the way of him making money (while that’s still important). His character is the dramatic side, he has depth, making his breakdown hit harder. I almost didn’t recognize Boyega in the part at first, and now I can’t wait to see him in more.

Slick Charles is portrayed by the impeccable Jamie Foxx, and he seems a perfect fit for the role of this struggling pimp. Playing the part exquisitely, the character steals scenes, and it’s easy to get lost in his banter with others. This man lives up to his name, from the way he dresses to his quick thinking, and the awards won in his industry. His resourceful nature and cleverness make him a strong and dangerous ally. Charles is the real deal, he’s just experiencing a downturn as of late. Yes, he’s a pimp with some heart, as we see him vulnerable, scared, questioning himself, and clinging to past accomplishments. He treats his girls one way on the outside while knowing he actually needs them in his life and hates the idea of being alone.

Then we have Teyonah Parris as Yo-Yo, the grounding element for the trio of personalities and a treat in her own right. Some characters just stand out, even with fewer lines and having to be relegated to the damsel at one point. This prostitute is probably the outright smartest and most dedicated one in the group, the wannabe detective or reporter who grew up idolizing Nancy Drew with a nose for clues and more bravery than is healthy. In some ways, she’s the unexpected variable, not like the other two, full of heart and ambition, wanting a better life and willing to fight for it. These actors together make for a powerful force that takes a fine script and makes it enthralling.

I was hooked just thinking this would be about them figuring out how to deal with being clones or possibly using their duplicates for shenanigans, but it becomes about saving the Glen, their home. The area they live in is dirty, crime-ridden, and full of secrets behind the neon lights, but there is a charm to this almost time-displaced neighborhood.

Don’t Copy That Floppy

They Cloned Tyrone is over two hours long and takes its time, letting the characters move more than the plot at first, but it doesn’t feel unwelcome until deciding to linger a bit too long at the end to reinforce a few known quantities. The first half is undoubtedly better in quality, but that’s because the characters have to react more once things get moving with less time to just be awesome. It’s like a separate chapter begins, but the film deftly dances between tones for most of its runtime, making the comedy, sex, and violence feel like they belong and not letting one element become too overpowering.  

“Assimilation is better than annihilation.”

Like most solid films, They Cloned Tyrone is going to play differently to a variety of people. Some think the “message” was a little too strong and hurt their enjoyment of the movie, several viewers didn’t like their portrayal of African Americans and the culture, claiming that it’s a bad representation, and there are a few who just think the bad guy’s evil plans had some motivational holes in it. Personally, I can only come at it with my perspective, but I’ve enjoyed reading about how others saw what could have easily been a ridiculous popcorn flick.

It can be a little negative, and depressing, fully diving into what is honestly a biting commentary that presents a take on identity and free will, not just of an individual, but the community as well.  It’s a story about cloning with a real foundation to prop up some action and laughs, serious issues presented with a pinch of satire, shedding some light on affairs for people who may not have normally considered these social plights. That’s what clever sci-fi does– takes elements of reality, finds the problems, and repackages them with fantastical ideas.

The movie doesn’t lean into those matters too heavily, allowing its audience to think about underlying ponderings as much or as little as they want. Whether viewers choose to look at it that way or not is up to them, but there’s plenty of material left over for everyone to enjoy the film. They Cloned Tyrone wanted to stand out a bit, not be a copy, and it’s certainly worth checking in on happenings in the Glen.  


Posted in Reviews