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They Cloned Tyrone is a future cult classic
★★★★★ | Attack of the Clones
I’ve started, stopped, and restarted this review at least ten times over the last week. During that time, I’ve revisited They Cloned Tyrone four times, and upon each viewing I’ve walked away with different insights and troubles.
Because They Cloned Tyrone is brilliant. It’s also a complicated film to talk about, because it is so culturally informed and so tied to a world that a white man in Helsinki can barely grasp.
It plays like a companion piece to Boots Riley’s superlative Sorry to Bother You. Like Riley’s film, They Cloned Tyrone is a bleakly comic sci-fi satire that repurposes blacksploitation cinema to highlight systemic racism and inequality in America.
It wrings out laughter from things that are deeply uncomfortable. It challenges the comfortable viewer to shift in their sofa. It demands not just attention, but comprehension of what you’re laughing at - and whether or not you’re laughing with or at said topic.
It arrives on Netflix in the midst of the Barbie/Oppenheimer craze with absolutely no fanfare, yet it is no lesser as a subversive call to action masquerading as a crowd pleaser.
John Boyega stars as Fontaine, a lowly drug dealer and thug in a sprawling and downtrodden suburb only identified as The Glen, whose life revolves around a routine of pumping iron, roughing up gangsters, drinking, and scratch cards. He lives with his unseen mother, who hides herself away in television and community events.
One day, while collecting debts from the fast-talking Slick Charles (Jamie Foxx), Fontaine is shot to death by a rival gang leader.
The next morning, Fontaine pumps iron, has a drink, and loses out on scratch cards. Another uneventful day in The Glen.
But something is off. Wasn’t he just shot? Has this happened before? And if so, how many times?
After the initial bewilderment wears off, Fontaine recruits an increasingly hesitant Slick Charles and the driven Yo-Yo (Teyonah Parris) for help, as he sets out to figure out just what the hell is going on in his hood.
Knowing anything beyond this would spoil the fun, and They Cloned Tyrone thrives on the unexpected thrills and audacious plot twists packed into the coolly efficient two hour runtime.
And it really wouldn’t help any, either. They Cloned Tyrone isn’t so much about plot as it is about communicating the bleak realization that it takes a genre film to properly vocalize the justified rage against an unjust system.
It weaponizes laughter to force audiences to confront some harsh truths of how happily ignorant we are to how our society is built.
Yes, it’s funny and superbly written. But it’s gallows humor that drives the bus. A darkly humorous understanding that the alternative is to burn shit down.
Anchored by an impressively physical and internalized performance by John Boyega, They Cloned Tyrone is the kind of film that deserves better than the burying grounds of midsummer on a streaming service. In a just world, it would be a midnight show favorite. A sneaky performer on DVD that grows an audience over time.
A stealthy cult classic people speak of in hushed tones until the audience grows so large it becomes a sound of thunder.
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