Rated R for violence, language, drug use, nudity, and sexuality. It's a movie that is unafraid of whatever rating it gets. While I would never show this to children, it's not like the movie is trying to be offensive. It just knows that it isn't shooting for a PG-13 rating at any point. It is a sci-fi film that never wants to feel like it is sci-fi. Like Black Mirror, sci-fi becomes most terrifying when it seems real. R.
DIRECTOR: Juel Taylor
Oh man, I'm so glad my wife was down to watch this. I was ia movie mood. My family, besides me, all has Covid, so I'm masking all the time. I tend to watch movies on the treadmill, but taking deep breaths in that house right now seems like a bad idea. So we watched They Cloned Tyrone, mainly because I just put this on. I honestly thought that this was made by the Attack the Block guy, mainly because John Boyega was in it. Still, They Cloned Tyrone did not disappoint even a little bit. I love that genre is embracing Black culture because genre storytelling is shifting out of "what if" to straight up allegory about stuff that's going on.
Listen, good sci-fi is supposed to preach at you a bit. I'm talking about both optimistic and pessimistic sci-fi. You are supposed to be looking at yourself. They Cloned Tyrone is pessimistic sci-fi, but it really never lets to get complacent with its message. I do love that we start with the really ambiguous "They" for the title because I kept seeing They Cloned Tyrone as the They Live for Black America. Listen, I don't love They Live. I love that They Live exists. It's a movie that I will be referencing the rest of my life. But They Live is just too on the nose for me. It is now kind of viewed ironically, mainly because of that fight with Keith David and the hilarious wrestling hair. But They Live was one of those movies that lacked subtlety and went right for the jugular when it came to talking about allegory. They Cloned Tyrone is not being subtle about its message. White America is manipulating Black America to encourage a racial divide. In the case of They Cloned Tyrone, it's doing so through chemical experimentation (which unfortunately is a little less sci-fi than I'd care to admit).
But where They Live is accidentally ironic (I refuse to believe that John Carpenter made these choices as tongue-in-cheek), They Cloned Tyrone is aware that the best way to get a message out there is through laughter and then the stark realization that the world is a terrible place. A lot of They Cloned Tyrone is masking a bitter pill in cheese. I attribute a lot of that to Jamie Foxx's Slick Charles. Slick Charles, oddly enough, might be my least favorite part of this movie. (I'm sorry, Mr. Foxx. I love you as an actor and I think you did exactly what you were supposed to with this character.) It's just that Slick Charles is in scenes with Fontaine. It's almost like they're filming two different movies. Foxx is filming Undercover Brother and Boyega is filming Training Day. Tonally, they're both different. But you kind of need Slick Charles to tell the story you are trying to tell. The movie is aggressive about its commentary on Black stereotypes. Because the movie is satire, it is throwing these slightly-larger-than-life moments at the screen. Slick Charles is part of the world of the Glen, which has convenience stores named "Got Dranks" and a chicken place that has a swear word in it. It's trying to make you laugh...until it doesn't.
That's when the movie gains an intensity that They Live never really had. John Carpenter, for all of his directing genius, never really hits the mark when it comes to intensity. As blantant as both movies are, John Boyega brings this grounded performance that makes the world feel more real. I know, glasses that let you see the theme of the movie is meant to be a sci-fi element of a real world, but the world of the Glen feels both like satire and reality. Maybe I'm just having a bit of a recency bias, but They Live just feels like a cardboard set compared to the world of They Cloned Tyrone. But here's the thing: Tyrone isn't exactly a nuanced documentary either. It's a commentary on stereotypes that we find funny. The movie is almost accusatory for having me laugh along with it. One of the big reveals of the movie is that Black people are being bred out of existence. Those experiments who are almost completely white live in this reality where they enjoy Black culture, but distance themselves from their Black victims. When the chicken shack owner is seduced by Yo-Yo, there's this distance between sexual needs and a sense of superiority in the moment.
I talked a little bit about the notion that this is science fiction, but it really isn't. They Cloned Tyrone's use of allegory is in this liminal space between the reality that the government works to keep miniorities in line and the fiction of the specific commentaries that Taylor weaves through his story. He understandably hates what Black culture has been reduced to in the eyes of White America. It's almost an encouraged pigeonholing of a complex culture that keeps being stolen for the sake of simplifying society. Instead, he has that attitude that Melvin Van Peebles has in his movies. These elements that Black people are stereotyped with are awesome, but reductive. They're used for laughs. I don't see the movie as anti-chicken. It's saying that people can't be seen as only liking one thing. I do get the vibe that the movie might be anti-religion, however. When the movie talks about music or chicken, the responses that people have are incongruous. The chicken makes you laugh. The music makes you a zombie. Okay, there's a little bit of a metaphor there. But when it comes to looking at religion, the movie hits the nail on the head pretty hard.
The look at faith as a means to stop people from rising up is pretty one-to-one. Look, I'm a practicing Catholic. There are times that my faith is better than others. But when The Preacher is using charisma to mask very painful trauma to these people, there's something wildly irresponsible that comes with it. Now, because the movie uses chemicals as a means to manipulate the masses, it isn't directly the religion that is causing people to stay ignorant about the control happening behind the curtain; it's the grape drink. But it's the context of the two. The same could be said of all of the objects, I suppose. It's not just the chemicals in the hair product. It's the chemicals in the hair product plus the social environment of the beauty shop. The chicken works the same way. Slick Charles has taste in isolation of the chemicals in the hot chicken. He's mostly okay from that moment. It's only when he's put in the social context of the restaurant that he starts spiraling out of control. But the religion one seems to be the most pure criticism. Maybe it is because it is the one that hits me the hardest. Out of all the stereotypes about Black culture, the religion element seems the most crossing-of-lines.
But They Cloned Tyrone is also one of those movies that is so clear with its message that it doesn't really leave room for debate. There were moments where I thought that this might actually be a criticism of Black culture in a weird way. But then Kiefer Sutherland showed up in a role that I'm not used to seeing him in and explained away the whole where's and why's of the movie. It's great because sometimes a blantant movie just needs to be even more blatant. But he also acts as this great personified villain when a story just needs to take someone down quickly. I mean, there's a face to White America and he's actually playing The Man. It's kind of amazing especially when it comes to a third-act showdown. But he's also scary as heck because he's one of these characters who presents the blind arguments that we've been getting for a while.
I don't know. I feel like commenting on a forward movie is almost annoying to a certain point for a reader. Listen, is They Cloned Tyrone great? Totally. It's a really good watch. I enjoyed it and I love getting super political. Should you watch it? Absolutely. Maybe that's all this blog really needed to be. It might have an element of preaching to the choir, but that's true about most art. It's the ones who become subversive over time that rile feathers, but the message isn't there. Regardless, great movie.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.