Conspiracies are true in hilarious sci-fi satire ‘They Cloned Tyrone’

Jamie Foxx, Teyonah Parris and John Boyega bring the laughs in a mystery set in an unclear place and time.

SHARE Conspiracies are true in hilarious sci-fi satire ‘They Cloned Tyrone’
TCT_20201211_02398_R2a.JPG

The amateur investigators of “They Cloned Tyrone” — Yo-Yo (Teyonah Parris), Slick Charles (Jamie Foxx) and Fontaine (John Boyega) — won’t cop out when there’s danger all about.

Netflix

We’ve seen so many movies and TV series set in a dystopian future where the exact year is splashed across the screen with a giant graphic, and so much time-travel fare that tells us exactly where we’ve landed on the time continuum — but as we’re settling in for the first few scenes of director/co-writer Juel Taylor’s audacious, original, bold, hilarious and whip-smart sci-fi social satire “They Cloned Tyrone,” it’s impossible to nail down the place and time.

Judging by the grainy lensing, the clothing and the hair styles, the songs on the soundtrack, the gas-guzzling GM vehicles, the furniture and the land lines, the discussion of “SpongeBob SquarePants” as if it’s a new thing, we gotta be more than two decades in the past, right? Ah, but then a sex worker named Yo-Yo (Teyonah Paris) is telling her, um, supervisor, Slick Charles (Jamie Foxx), about some investment opportunities she’s been considering, and she says: “Blockchain. That’s right, mother------, blockchain. … Cryptocurrency’s a bubble, everybody knows that. But blockchain? Oh, that s--- the future.”

Wait a minute, what? Even the community where the entire mystery/thriller is set is deliberately vague — we only know it’s called The Glen — and don’t look to the license plates for any clues, because they simply carry the slogan, “A SWELL PLACE.” This is one of the many clever aspects of “They Cloned Tyrone,” a genre-bending blaxploitation film with elements of “Get Out,” “Sorry to Bother You,” “They Live,” and time-loop fare such as “Groundhog Day” and “Russian Doll.”

‘They Cloned Tyrone’

Untitled

Netflix presents a film directed by Juel Taylor and written by Taylor and Tony Rettenmaier . Running time: 122 minutes. Rated R (pervasive language, violence, some sexual material and drug use). Now showing at local theaters and premiering Friday on Netflix.

With director Taylor and co-writer Tony Rettenmaier delivering a script with as many laughs per minute as any film this year, and a brilliant cast led by Paris, Foxx and John Boyega, “Tyrone” exists in a self-contained world where conspiracy theories are not only possible but most likely not just theories. This is a film that has much to say about the systematic oppression of marginalized and exploited classes, and the powers that be who will go to extreme measures to make sure the more things change, the more things stay the same. Also, it’s funny as hell.

John Boyega’s Fontaine is a hard-nosed, ruthless drug dealer who will literally run you over if you infringe on his turf — though we do see flashes of Fontaine’s humanity, whether he’s putting up a neighborhood scamp called Junebug (Trayce Malachi), pouring some of his malt liquor into the paper cup of Leon Lamar’s Frog, or looking after his mother, who is always locked in her room and never seems to be hungry. (“I’m all right baby. Josephine had a fish fry at the community center, and I’m still full.”) On one typically bleak and foreboding night, Fontaine tracks down the pimp Slick Charles (Foxx), who owes him money, in a seedy, film noir motel — and upon exiting Slick’s room, Fontaine is gunned down by a rival dealer. He’s dead.

Cut to the next morning, when Fontaine wakes up, apparently perfectly healthy, and repeats the actions of the previous day, unaware of what went down the night before. However, Slick Charles and Yo-Yo, who witnessed Fontaine’s murder, DO remember what happened, and they freak the bleep out when they see he’s alive and well. Or at least, alive.

At this point, “They Cloned Tryone” becomes a caper film, as Fontaine, Slick Charles and Yo-Yo (easily the brightest of this trio) team up to investigate what appears to be some sort of mass, mind-control experiment performed on the entire community. (Slick Charles, combing through Yo-Yo’s collection of Nancy Drew Mysteries: “How many adventures this bitch been on?”) Everything from the secret spices used in the wildly popular Got Damn! Fried Chicken to the chemicals in hair products to the grape juice they drink at the church to the songs on the radio — it’s all being used to control the populace.

When our trio of amateur sleuths get closer and close to uncovering the truth, who should show up but Kiefer Sutherland’s mysterious operative Nixon (HA), who explains he’s not the mastermind behind this whole conspiracy, he’s the No. 2: “Everybody’s got a boss. I’m just the guy THAT guy calls when there’s a mess to be cleaned up.” (The casting of Kiefer is particularly apt, given his father, Donald Sutherland, starred in the 1978 version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” and there are echoes of that film throughout “Tyrone.”)

It goes without saying (but we’ll say it) that you’re going to have to take some leaps of logic to buy into the premise, and as is the case with almost any story that takes a “Matrix”-like plunge, some threads will remain loose to the end. Mostly, though, “They Cloned Tyrone” remains refreshingly, weirdly, fantastically entertaining throughout, right until the closing credits, when Erykah Badu performs an updated version of her song “Tyrone” with lyrics tailored to this story.

That’s right. She basically cloned “Tyrone.”

The Latest
Some Democrats issued statements of strong support for the vice president, others stayed mum, for now — with just weeks to go before the Democratic National Convention kicks off in Chicago on Aug. 19.
The band is now making money on the road, a turn that vocalist Katie Gavin calls ‘a game-changer.’
Thorpe lowers ERA to 3.03 in fifth straight start with 2 or fewer runs allowed.
A 50-year-old woman was treated at the scene for minor injuries in the 5100 block of South Loomis Street.