ELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times
If there is one thing that’s remained consistent throughout U.S. history, it’s the development/discussion of conspiracy theories, and there have been plenty that have come and gone throughout the years. Many have been proven false while some have turned out to be true, and many more modern ones are beyond crazy while some have been deemed plausible. All conspiracy theories, however, share the common idea that there’s some overarching force(s) colluding in hiding things from the general public because the truth is just too much for the public to comprehend/bear.
Filmmaker Juel Taylor takes on this idea with his directorial debut “They Cloned Tyrone,” which follows an unlikely trio (John Boyega, Jamie Foxx and Teyonah Parris) as they’re inadvertently put onto the trail of a nefarious government conspiracy. It was released on Netflix last week and since the premise sounded promising, I decided to give it a chance.
To start off with, there’s a very off feeling about the movie. Everything’s very bleak and dark, and to add to that feeling, the movie has an almost grainy look to it, which I felt was a really cool creative choice. Throughout the rest of the movie, the use of color is also very creatively done and does a great job of helping set the movie’s overall tone, so my hat goes off to the crew in charge of the lighting and coloring and all of that.
Another aspect that really helps set the tone of the movie is the music used throughout. The thumping bass from the R&B/funk music meshes VERY well with the other parts of the musical score and there were a handful of moments when I was more unsettled with the music than with what was going on in the movie. The songs also help with foreshadowing what’s going to happen next, some of which I didn’t fully realize until after it happened in the movie. I didn’t quite catch who was in charge of the music, but they get my respect for how they used the music used in the movie.
I also have to give praise to the cast, because they definitely seemed to be having a lot of fun. The main trio, which includes John Boyega, Jamie Foxx and Teyonah Parris, all did a good job and I felt like they all had great chemistry with each other and worked well together. Boyega’s makes his character, Fontaine, sullen and impassive and seems to only have joy when he’s around his young friend, Junebug (who hilariously recaps certain episodes of “Spongebob Squarepants,” all of which I’m actually very familiar with), and it’s the darkest performance I’ve seen from him yet. Foxx is wily as Slick Charles (yet at certain points the only one with more than one brain cell), a pimp who has seen better days, and he’s able to be over the top without making it too annoying. Parris also does a great job as Yo-Yo, a sex worker who works for Slick Charles, and I found her funny due to some of her comments and observations, and my favorite thing about her is the fact that she’s a massive “Nancy Drew” fan and uses the series as her frame of reference for mystery-solving throughout the movie.
While there was definitely thought put into many of the creative aspects of the story, there were definitely some parts I felt should have been worked on, especially the main story. I’m as interested in hearing conspiracy theories as the next person (well, to a certain extent), but quite frankly, there are only so many times the cinematic world can use the whole “THE GOVERNMENT IS COMPLETELY EVIL AND NO ONE SHOULD TRUST IT AT ANY POINT, EVER” trope without it getting old. I’m not so naive as to think our government has absolutely NEVER been involved in shady stuff, but in my opinion, there’s a point where that trope just becomes annoying.
Something else I personally found off-putting was the amount of profanity used – if you’re a screenwriter and feel like every other word or every line of dialogue has to feature a curse word, that’s rather lazy writing, and it definitely turned me off throughout this movie.
Similar to Jordan Peele’s films “Get Out” and “Nope,” I felt like “They Cloned Tyrone” couldn’t quite decide whether it wanted to be more of a comedy or thriller, which took me out of the movie somewhat. I also felt Juel Taylor tried to cram too many tropes into the movie – I think the goal was to have “They Cloned Tyrone” as a fresh conjunction of sci-fi and blaxploitation/comedy, but ultimately, the movie never fully realizes that goal because there’s just too much that’s going on. If Taylor had done some trimming and narrowed his focus, the movie could have been much, much better. That would have also helped with the pacing, which slows to a crawl at some points – there was one point where I thought “Okay, I’m probably about three-fourths of the way through or so,” and it turned out I was only barely halfway through. Also, I’d like to know exactly what era this movie is supposed to be taking place in, because there are A LOT of contradictions in that regard.
Overall, I ended up having a more mixed reaction to “They Cloned Tyrone” and I would give it a “C” grade. There’s a lot of creativity shown through the music and color/design scheme, and the cast is fantastic, particularly the main trio of John Boyega, Jamie Foxx and Teyonah Parris. However, the script and story could have definitely used some work and I hope Juel Taylor can refine his skills in the future, because he does seem to have a good vision. The movie is currently available to view on Netflix.