Movie Review: They Cloned Tyrone is an expansive, ambitious directorial debut for Juel Taylor, who uses his influences to craft a grainy, throwback genre film.
They Cloned Tyrone is the debut movie from Juel Taylor and is currently streaming on Netflix. It stars John Boyega, Jamie Foxx and Teyonah Parris, and depicts a sequence of events that thrusts the three of them into the middle of an unlikely Government operation.
They Cloned Tyrone has many elements that I like to see in movies from first time directors, as well as movies heading straight for streaming services. Juel Taylor directs a movie stylized to the nines, backed by grainy throwback camerawork and zany performances by a star-studded cast.
The plot is quite rigorous, documenting an unlikely occurrence where Fontaine (John Boyega), a drug dealer in a retro-futuristic neighborhood, is shot and left for dead. Once he reappears the day after at the footsteps of his advisory Slick (Jamie Foxx, returning to fun and inventive filmmaking – please never leave us again), it’s clear that something funky is up.
From there, the two acquaintances, along with the help of a local sex worker Yo-Yo (Teyonah Parris) uncover a bizarre and sadistic conspiracy by the Government that directly affects everyone living in their neighborhood.
Needless to say, there’s a lot going on within the compounds of Juel Taylor’s first film. The story is quite ambitious, leaping between settings and plot points frequently. They don’t always align with the end promise of a third act loaded with plot twists and memorable one-liners, but each individual sequence of the film is blocked and executed quite well. It’s clear from the jump that Taylor has many ideas that bulk up the movie’s ambitions and runtime, and he’s able to cram them all in.
But that comes with the feeling that They Cloned Tyrone meanders a bit too much, at least for my liking. The movie runs like an old noir. It encounters many characters and heads to a lot of different places. There’s a varied level of interest that comes with each, spanning from the days that pass by while they set up shop in Slick’s crummy apartment to the final set piece inside a mysterious laboratory deep underground in the neighborhood.
It feels as if Juel Taylor’s been waiting for this opportunity his entire career to make a movie with these specific images and themes, but he occasionally struggles to pair that with a crisp story. If he had reigned in his impulses just a bit and cut the runtime by about 20 minutes, I think They Cloned Tyrone could’ve been a legitimately great debut movie.
But even with those criticisms, I still liked many of the idiosyncratic choices, as well as the distinct style of They Cloned Tyrone. As I mentioned earlier, it feels like a misty noir of the 1970s mixed with huge swaths of blaxploitation and black comedy. It’s hard to pinpoint that exact tone and hold it for as long as he does, and make it feel so effortless in the process.
Jamie Foxx is the standout, as to be expected. With all the counter-reporting about his state of health and personal life, this got lost in the headlines for being a genuinely reinvigorating performance for his career. It reminded me quite a bit of Day Shift from last year (also incidentally released on Netflix). There’s a coolness to these performances that he’s perfected in a career that spans decades, but it’s nice to know Jamie Foxx always has his fastball when he needs it.
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John Boyega appears in a role that’s perfectly cast as an inverse from his previous acting credits. He’s rarely had this much of an understated role, opting for more vibrance in big blockbuster action movies like The Woman King or the Star Wars sequel series. He carries a screen presence this time where he’s always lingering as an unknown, channeling the same energy that he successfully brought to Breaking from last year.
It’s a shame that Netflix chose to release They Cloned Tyrone around the same time as the Barbie/Oppenheimer opening weekend because this seems to have gotten buried amongst the clamoring around those movies. This feels ripe for a renaissance five years from now as we all look around and wonder how we let this slip by.
This all depends on the future movies that Juel Taylor crafts as They Cloned Tyrone feels like the steppingstone to something greater – something more visceral and powerful. They Cloned Tyrone is the movie we look back on to see the blueprint for an artist rather than wondering how he never reached these heights again.
Which is why I can give some of the narrative shortcomings a break. I’m not sure I’ll revisit They Cloned Tyrone in the coming years, but I’m glad it exists. A movie that wears its influences on its sleeves while reworking the common elements of genre filmmaking.
Where to watch They Cloned Tyrone: Netflix
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They Cloned Tyrone Movie Cast and Credits
John Boyega as Fontaine
Teyonah Parris as Yo-Yo
Jamie Foxx as Slick Charles
Kiefer Sutherland as Nixon
David Alan Grier as The Preacher
J. Alphonse Nicholson as Isaac
Director: Juel Taylor
Cinematography: Ken Seng
Editor: Saira Haider
Composer: Pierre Charles
They Cloned Tyrone movie on Letterboxd
They Cloned Tyrone movie on IMDb