The idea of constant surveillance is one that’s been creeping from speculative sci-fi and into our daily lives with a vengeance. Conspiracies have tirelessly fueled the idea of an infernal machine, working to keep things running smoothly — or, more accurately, to keep the marginalized down. But the systemic status quo can only be upheld for so long. That’s what happens when you build a society on the concept of supremacy. Eventually, the cracks begin to show; the oppressed eventually grow wise to the lies webbing all around them. It’s only a matter of time before the illusion shatters completely.
This is the thesis for They Cloned Tyrone, a slick sci-fi from Creed II scribe Juel Taylor. Tyrone serves as Taylor’s directorial debut, and he doesn’t waste a moment of the film’s two-hour runtime. Netflix’s latest is a shockingly-solid genre mash-up, combining the kooky class commentary of Sorry to Bother You with the hijinks of a Scooby-Doo mystery. It tops it all off with a stunning homage to the blaxploitation era. But for all the disparate styles in the mix, Tyrone fortunately never skimps on substance.
A lot of that has to do with the unlikely heroes at the heart of the film. John Boyega leads the charge as Fontaine, an aspiring kingpin of the run-down Glen. Like the artificial complex at the heart of Westworld, the Glen is far from a utopia. Its carefully curated ecosystem exists as a real enough parallel to any neighborhood you’d find around the way. Days pass predictably enough for Fontaine: he spends most of his time protecting his turf and shaking down his shifty clientele for cash. When a turf war with a rival culminates in a shoot-out, Fontaine appears to meet his ignominious end.
Or does he?
Fontaine is understandably surprised when he wakes up at his home the very next morning. Did he actually catch a bullet the night before, or was it all just a bad dream? He sets out to question the last people that saw him alive: Slick Charles (Jamie Foxx), a washed-up pimp turned “entrepreneur,” and Yo-Yo (Teyonah Parris), a pro in Slick’s employ. The search for the truth spirals quickly into a blindsiding mystery, one that involves everyone in the Glen.
It’s not too hard to deduce what’s really going down, even from the outside looking in. Given all the Black-led sci-fi, fantasy, and horror stories that have adapted similar premises in recent years, the conspiracy in They Cloned Tyrone almost comes off as simple. What sets the Netflix film apart is its approach to such well-worn genres, and its ambitious way of marrying them all together.
With Tyrone, Taylor and co-writer Tony Rettenmaier craft an utterly unique world that straddles past and present. The Glen is an amalgamation of so many eras, merging the ‘60s with the ‘90s, disco with trap, and political thrillers with hood classics. Even when the mystery begins to tread too-familiar ground or the climax runs out of steam, Taylor finds other ways to pick up the slack. It doesn’t hurt that the film is ridiculously funny, chock full of the coded humor that made Get Out such a revelation. And it’s all anchored by its central trio, who seamlessly juggle every element of Tyrone’s disparate tones.
Tyrone serves as a perfect vehicle for each member of its cast. Boyega himself has made an indelible mark on sci-fi, but not since his debut in Attack the Block have his talents been used to such brilliant effect. It’s not easy playing it so straight in such a kooky world, especially not with your co-stars hamming it up at every opportunity. Foxx is notorious for stealing a scene, and Slick Charles might be his most delightful role in a long time, especially when paired with Parris’ Yo-Yo. But Boyega is the undeniable heart of the film. It’s his commitment that allows the film to become something more. There’s nothing wrong with pure satire — and Tyrone definitely does it well — but Boyega and co. know exactly how to honor the past while remixing it for the future. It makes the film so much more than an homage or a mood piece, and it certainly helps Tyrone cut through Netflix’s recent noise.