Directed by: Juel Taylor
Distributed by: Netflix
Written by Anna Harrison
Ah, Netflix. How quickly times change—not so long ago, it was a place where movies that might not get mainstream love could come to grow and thrive. Nowadays, it’s where they go to die, and even a movie starring Jamie Foxx and Kiefer Sutherland gets forgotten about after a week or so. It’s a shame, too, because Juel Taylor’s feature debut has a confidence and swagger that shouldn’t be trapped on Netflix, but over two years after “They Cloned Tyrone” wrapped filming, that is where we’ve ended up.
Regardless of where “They Cloned Tyrone” is now streaming, the movie loudly announces Taylor as a director to watch: from the opening scene, where low-level drug dealer Fontaine (John Boyega) runs over a guy with his car, Taylor shows a firm grasp on aesthetics, helped by cinematographer Ken Seng. Though shot on digital and then transferred to film, “They Cloned Tyrone” looks as if it could happily exist in the 1970s; indeed, the film leaves enough mystery around its setting that it very well could be set in the 1970s except for a few out of place car models and phones, and its Blaxploitation roots are plain to see, down to pimp Slick Charles’s (Foxx) very, very excellent wardrobe. It’s this eerie not-quite-timelessness that perfectly lays the scene for “They Cloned Tyrone,” which bounces between 70s outfits and a nightmare of a futuristic sci-fi plot, which sees Fontaine killed in a drug deal gone wrong before awakening the next day as if nothing happened, much to the shock of Charles and Yo-Yo (Teyonah Parris), Charles’s number one employee.
As the three begin to investigate Fontaine’s not-quite-death, it becomes clear that someone has been pulling strings in the Glen, the economically depressed neighborhood the trio calls home (though it is very obviously Atlanta). While Fontaine and Charles might not seem the detective types—Yo-Yo, for her part, loves Nancy Drew—they each prove more than their labels (drug dealer, pimp, hooker, respectively) and unearth a sinister racial conspiracy involving drugged fried chicken, hypnotic songs, and white guys with afros. Boyega, Foxx, and Parris make their investigations so damn fun that you don’t want the mystery to end, because the answer will inevitably be less interesting than whatever try-hard line comes out of Slick Charles’s mouth.
Indeed, by the time Kiefer Sutherland appears to start expositing about what’s really going on, “They Cloned Tyrone” begins to stumble with overlong monologues explaining a plot that the rest of the film cannot support—but it’s still an admirable swing for the fences. It’s too bad that the Netflix algorithm has already buried it. Perhaps that’s the real conspiracy at play here.
“They Cloned Tyrone” Trailer