dir: Juel Taylor
I feel like, considering the fact that no-one was ever going to see this anyway, they should have gone with “Oh No! Bro? They Cloned Tyrone!” as an alternate, if not better, title. I mean, it would have been terrible, with all that punctuation, but for some reason it could have been more fitting.
I thought this flick was hilarious. I loved it. It’s one of the funnier flicks that I’ve seen this year, and it’s a shame that it’s been relegated to the relative ghetto that is Netflix. It’s also funny to me that one of the lazier, dumber flicks I watched earlier this year, also on Netflix, also starring Jaimie Foxx, got nowhere near the same heights despite treading familiar genre ground (that waste of time was called Day Shift, in case you’re wondering).
If it feels like an amalgam, an accumulation of Blaxploitation elements, from the cookie-cutter characters, the slinky soundtrack that Curtis Mayfield would have enjoyed listening to (though he would have composed something way more exceptional), and dialogue and performances that wouldn’t have been out of place in flicks from Black Dynamite to I’m Going to Get You Sucker, that's because it is.
And even though it’s set contemporarily, there would be moments where one could be unsure as to whether it’s set now, twenty years ago, or twenty years before that. When Slick Charles yells about winning Pimp of the Year at the International Players Ball of 1995, you feel like saying “but that was 30 years ago bro…”
You might have assumed that the main character, or someone close to the main character, would be called Tyrone. You would be mistaken. If our flick here has a main man, a main character, it’s Fontaine (the great John Boyega).
Fontaine wakes up and goes about his day. He is an archetypal drug dealer. This is his world. It mostly seems to revolve around hassling people for the moneys he is owed, and assessing the dimensions of his empire. Though he does check in on his momma, calling through the door to see if she wants a sandwich.
She’s happy with her stories on the telly. Don’t know why he never opens the door?
When you’re a young man in such a profession, people will either avoid you or come after you. Through the archetypal hooker character Yo-Yo (Teyonah Parris), Fontaine tries to track down Slick Charles (Jaimie Foxx), who owes and owes.
Jaimie Foxx is so fucking funny in this absurd film. ‘Absurd’ is not a criticism – as the plot rolls along, so many ridiculous elements are revealed, but they feel in synch with the world being depicted. Though it trades in the kind of conspiracy theory stuff that would get you looked at askance in a different context (it’s not of the cooker/ vaccine, QAnon-type bullshit at least), it works on the level that it needs to in something that is more of a comedy. Even as it works as a comedy, it’s in the context of control and coercion conspiracy theories that arose in the 70s and 80s, about US government efforts to keep certain people down, and exactly where they were.
Theories, of course, that arose because of revelations of government decisions to keep certain people where they were through redlining (non-approval of mortgages), through city design (like building bridges too low to allow for buses or public transport to ferry the undeserving or the undesirable to “nicer” areas, through not treating their illnesses deliberately for over 30 years as in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, or through the long-rumoured flooding of certain drugs into certain neighbourhoods after the Vietnam War.
As Nino Brown, the antagonist in the classic New Jack City memorably yells towards the end of his court case and the end of the film, “Ain’t no Uzis made in Harlem. Not one of us in here owns a poppy field.”
Well. They Cloned Tyrone doubles down, triples down on this kind of thinking. Someone else is always pulling the strings.
What if the cycles of dysfunction, the intended strangulation of opportunity for “certain” people in the US; what if it was all part of a grand plan? What if people like Fontaine and Slick Charles are merely tools in maintaining this cycle, created to be limited in their ways, and keep down the people around them? What if the person at the top of this conspiracy, what if he had the best of intentions to go along with the worst of outcomes?
Oh, and did I mention that Fontaine is shot and killed in the opening minutes of the film, leading to him waking up and not knowing what the fuck is going on?
I mean, he has no idea, but we’ve seen the title of the film. Do you remember, the title of the film? Have you forgotten it already?
Goddamn. It’s called They Cloned Tyrone for a reason.
Inspired by Nancy Drew and her investigative wiles, Fontaine, Yo-Yo and Slick Charles delve into the underworld of their city, which is called The Glen, but I’m pretty sure was just Atlanta, to find out What’s Really Going On. And what they find is, well, something funnier and stranger than I could have imagined.
The first clue (for me) about how not exactly brilliant these protagonists are (except for Fontaine), is that when they follow some breadcrumbs and stumble upon an underground lab, and Yo-Yo and Slick see a pile of white powder, their first thoughts aren’t “we are in some kind of laboratory environment, that pile of white powder could be anything, from arsenic to anthrax, so let’s leave it alone.”
Their first thoughts are “free cocaine! Gimme Gimme!”
It turns out that stuff doesn’t kill them instantly, and it isn’t cocaine. But for some reason it does make them fucking goofy.
And the breadcrumb trail they follow shows that this stupefying chemical is being delivered to all the places of African-American worship: fried chicken restaurants, sellers of grape juice, strip clubs, salons specialising in hair straightening and Baptist churches.
Hmm. I wonder what links those establishments? I wonder, as to the expected clientele?
It’s not a headscratcher. Though people might mention Get Out or Sorry to Bother You, They Cloned Tyrone is more comedic, and uses that humour to leaven the science fiction abetted deep-seeded racist nature of what’s going on. It’s not horror like the former flick, or as satirically absurd / mocking of late stage capitalism and its discontents as the latter.
But it’s pretty nastily funny all the same. If you are surprised, at the end, by the identity of the man, or should I say The Man at the top, well, you honestly haven’t watched that many movies in your life, have you? It makes perfect, depressing sense at the end, as something as terrible as this scheme could only be put in place if someone felt they had good cause and the best of intentions.
The ending itself may be awfully simplistic and almost insulting in how readily the infrastructure of institutional white supremacy / racism is seemingly brought down, there is a coda to the action which involves having an entirely different person played by John Boyega waking up on the other side of the States wondering why Fontaine on the telly looks so much like him.
Yeah, I wonder why too. Boyega doesn’t get to be the fun one here, but he’s a perfect counterweight to Foxx and Parris, who strike comedic gold with their deliberately clichéd characterisations. Foxx especially is an absolute delight here, and easily gets the lion’s share of the movies funniest lines.
Teyonah is great too, with a killer sequence to do with her hair towards the end. What never goes explained (and therein lies its delightful nature) is why, when others around her are clones, and perhaps have an explanation for the limitations in their so-called “programming”, nothing explains how it is that she became the perfect mix of Foxy Brown, Coffy and Sheba (all characters the legendary Pam Grier played back in the day) with an encyclopaedic knowledge of Nancy Drew mysteries. And yet she’s a ho in thigh high boots, and it’s 2023?
She is her own creation, as we all should aim to be. I’m not even sure if this flick has a moral beyond that institutional racism is fucked, and the US (and the people within it) still struggles with the legacy of the past.
And that cloning people with the intention of making African-Americans disappear through assimilation is a terrible idea.
I also haven’t been able to nail down exactly what the use of the control phrase “Olympia Black” is a reference to. A certain villainous character, of course played by Kiefer Sutherland, one of the token white people in the movie, uses the phrase in order to control two clones.
He is deliberately misidentified as Kevin Bacon at one point. At first I thought it was a reference to hair dye, or a straightener, or a place of significance to African-American history (which usually means an atrocity was committed there). Or that it maybe referred to Octavia Butler, the science fiction writer, but no, don’t know as yet. I’ll keep digging.
It works, though. It all mostly worked for me, and I enjoyed my time spent with these solid characters in a surreal but depressing yet familiar reflection “through a glass darkly” of America in all its glory.
8 times they cloned Tyrone and all I got was this lousy t-shirt out of 10
“Why does it always got to be Black on Black crime?” – why indeed - They Cloned Tyrone