They Cloned Tyrone (2023) Directed by Juel Taylor
I’m somewhat fatigued of social rhetoric perpetuated in the simplicity of mindless entertainment, yet this eclectic blaxploitation sci-fi farce unimaginably works wonders with its metamorphic, sinuous script, one of the tightest written this year. Some will claim it is a relevant film for its – to my mind platitudinous – social commentary, however in my estimation this scathing yarn is more relevant for its enveloping diversification of genres into a compact narrative structure and for its subversive sensationalism than for its social manifesto. What’s more impressive is that this feature is the directorial debut of Juel Taylor, who had only irrelevant, forgettable screenwriting credits on his resume; but it’s never too late to make a radical turnaround and upgrade his unremarkable presence in the medium into something noteworthy. Apparently, his debut in the director’s chair displays an incisive potential for absurdism. In effect, this cockamamie tale of conspiracy, capitalist satire and African American pop is an energetic spectacle of absurdism. An ostentatious, but genuinely hilarious, proof of its irrepressible nonsense is found in its intermingled anachronistic factions.
The stylistic triumph of this production resides in homogenizing idiosyncrasies of disparate eras within the same temporal and spatial framework. Does the plot take place in the 70’s? in the 80’s? in the 90’s? in the early 2000’s? that is never specified, although its façade at times contradicts the contemporaneity of the costumes and cultural references refute the context of the characters, their paradoxes nourish the ontological absurdity of the plot. Fontaine (John Boyega) is a drug dealer in a dangerous neighborhood where everything gravitates around decadence. In one of his rigid, automatic routines, Fontaine, after going to collect his money from a loud-mouthed, quirky pimp (Jamie Foxx), is murdered in cold blood by an enemy gang. The next day he wakes up in his bed with no wounds and no remembrance of being shot. From then on, along with the pimp and a prostitute (Teyonah Parris), he will investigate what the heck happened to him on that ominous, blurry night. The less we know the better. Much of the script’s vitality comes from its unpredictable directionality; the plot is cleverly absorbing thanks to its twisty, ambiguous perversities. It’s definitely the kind of storytelling where dramatic revelations are enlivened by our bewildered involvement as spectators.
When the more caustic spirit of the film brings out its best qualities of socio-political sarcasm, and when the discursive sentiment that seeks to portray the worst of America as an acid caricature elicits challenging emotions, the film is an unrelenting, heady vortex of genres vitalizing each other to offer an exceptional entertainment as brainless as it is cerebral. But when the film is just an insipid and trite social commentary forgetting its rich tapestry of genres as a comic praxis – also political, but on a peripheral scale, never detracting from the eccentric humor – the story loses creativity and even its format within that critical apparatus begins to look unbalanced. It has invasive errors that left me obfuscated and ultimately in stupor. While it is true that I found its unilateral critique of the issues in which the black community lives subjugated to the destructive modus vivendi in the ghettos somewhat basic in its denouncing expression, Juel Taylor’s directional forcefulness sustains the script’s exhilarating pace. Furthermore, the performances are beautifully even; Jamie Foxx is irreverently funny, and Teyonah Parris is aptly exuberant. It’s not what I would have liked it to be in its entirety, yet the potency of the exercise as a paranoid, existentialist experiment in eclectic entertainment with a cultural twist is incontestable. It’s a lot of fun and unexpectedly intriguing.