They Cloned Tyrone–They Live gets a worthy follow-up 35 years later

Review by C.J. Bunce

Sometimes bad guys make the best good guys.  So many classic science fiction tropes appear in Netflix’s They Cloned Tyrone, a few minutes into the film you’ll realize this could be on the Best Picture scroll next February.  Despite the previews, this is not a flimsy sci-fi effort.  They Live, A Clockwork Orange, Coma, The Stepford Wives, and yes, Get Out.  Starring John Boyega, it may seem like a good pairing with the younger, streetwise Boyega of Attack the Block.  The Marvels star Teyonah Parris is so cool, calm, collected, and the mood and music has such a 1970s vibe, you may think you’re watching the next Tarantino–Jackie Brown, but the sci-fi version.  Coming off his vampire movie Day Shift last summer, you may think Academy Award winning actor Jamie Foxx is making the full genre rounds.  Even before Donald Sutherland’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers comes to mind, his son Kiefer shows up.

Like BlackKKlansmen, this movie has a lot to say about reality in a fantasy way.  Despite combining many sci-fi concepts we’ve seen before, it presents them all in an entertaining, new way.  Make it your next sci-fi fix.  They Cloned Tyrone is not an official sequel to They Live, but it’s certainly a worthy one.  And it opens this weekend on Netflix.

But the They Live comparison only gets you to the mid-point of the movie.  The trio of lead characters are all connected in their small community called The Glen.  Teyonah Parris plays a prostitute named Yo-Yo, and her pimp is played by Jamie Foxx.  He’s Slick Charles.  Slick’s drug dealer is Fontaine, played by John Boyega.  Everyone seems to want to know where Fontaine is, and those that don’t, like Slick, are hiding from him, because he’s coming to collect.  These three all play a role in their community like everyone else, until someone a bit bigger than Fontaine comes along.  That’s J. Alphonse Nicholson’s Isaac J., who shoots Fontaine dead.  And that’s just the opening few minutes.

Without skipping a beat, we see Fontaine wake up in his bed unhurt the next day.  How can Fontaine still be alive?  What’s the deal with white guys with Afros as bad guys?  The mastermind of a top secret, Nazi-level, conspiracy theory-feeling experimental Stranger Things-inspired lab is the biggest surprise of all (except, maybe, for Yo-Yo’s hair).

Elements of this movie will conjure even more sci-fi and fantasy movies, like Groundhog Day, Spiderhead, and Watermelon Man, and series like The X-Files, Luke Cage, and Wayward Pines.  That Quentin Tarantino style, with the throwback cars, R&B music, and costume designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuck’s selections for Foxx and Parris’s signature outfits, pull together a mix of eras that also make the movie a good pairing for The Vast of Night or the genre-bending Midnight Special.   

This is something different than your average 1970s blacksploitation movie (at times it feels like Eddie Murphy’s Dolemite is My Name), and it’s also neither a parody nor satire.  It’s too present, too on-point, for that, which also makes it land with its message much better than the cautionary tale Get Out, and much closer to They Live.  We’re here 35 years after John Carpenter’s celebrated mix of science fiction, economics, politics, and culture, and yet the same messages still need driven home by science fiction writers.

If you’re a big fan of science fiction, you can’t help try to stay a step ahead of writer-director Juel Taylor (Creed II).  Who is the “They” of the title (and who is “Tyrone”?), and which science fiction trope is this story going to land on?

Watch for Leon Lamar as a staple on the street corner and David Alan Grier as the preacher–both double the role of the preacher from They Live.  The story is so well handled that the special effects don’t matter all that much.  The movie is darkly lit like another lab experiment movie, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, which works for this story too.  See if you agree the church scene is a revelatory moment on par with The Blues Brothers and The Kingsman.

It’s not just good, it’s great, and worthy of the attention of the Academy come Oscar time.  You’ll want to re-watch it to catch all the subtext you missed the first time.  Don’t miss John Boyega, Teyonah Parris, and Jamie Foxx in They Cloned Tyrone, now streaming on Netflix.

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