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'They Cloned Tyrone' is far more clever than I initially thought

They Cloned Tyrone is a movie that I initially wished were as clever as it seemed to want to be, and then turned out to be far more clever than I was giving it credit for, using the same rope-a-dope tactic on me that its characters use on each other.

It’s set in a rough, inner-city Black neighborhood called The Glen, where we meet Fontaine, played by John Boyega. He’s a drug dealer who is fearsome, and frightening, and certainly so as he makes the rounds collecting his money. He eventually gets to Slick Charles, a pimp played by Jamie Foxx, and a character that, for half of the movie, made me feel disappointed. Slick Charles is very much a caricature, the movie pimp with the big hair and flashy outfits, full of bravado and snappy dialogue that’s almost funny, but just feels too strained. You’ve seen this before, and it felt like a missed opportunity. But, as I said, that’s just the half of it.

As you might have suspected from the movie’s title, not everyone in They Cloned Tyrone is who we think they are, or, maybe more accurately, not everyone is who they think they are. Being as cagy as I can here, I’ll say that there’s a lot going on under the surface of The Glen, as we fall into a vast conspiratorial world of manufactured reality. These caricatures and stereotypes we face are very much by design, and the movie is smart about how it plays with our assumptions, including what we think about the movie’s own dialogue. Often what we think is just a little too cute is, again, entirely on purpose.

The movie is probably overstuffed with ideas, and every now and then that too-cute dialogue actually is just too cute. But They Cloned Tyrone has a ton to say about a system that has been designed to hold entire groups of people in very strict confines, and about how hidden much of that system can be. If you don’t know you can never leave, is your “free will” really free?

They Cloned Tyrone is on Netflix July 21st.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.