They Cloned Tyrone begins as the grounded drama of three vivid bottom-rung criminals. There’s John Boyega as Fontaine, a drug dealer who one character says has never laughed, and we look at Boyega, sullenly impassive in his gold grillz (he gives a quietly implosive performance unlike anything he’s done before), and can believe that’s true. There’s Jamie Foxx as Slick Charles, a pimp in a sculpted ‘fro and paisley bathrobe who has seen better days (“I was a 1995 International Players Ball pimp of the year!”), and who rules his roost with a cold-as-ice bravura that, as the wily Foxx plays it, is as entertaining as it is convincing in its small-time megalomania. And there’s Teyonah Parris as Yo-Yo, a sex worker who earns her keep under Charles, and who stands up to him in as hostile and rococo obscene a fashion as he does to her.
The filmmaker, Juel Taylor, has never directed a feature before (he was a co-writer on “Creed II”), but he stages scenes with a visually impressive mood of funky gloom. The dialogue, which he wrote with Tony Rettenmaier, is fast and vivacious in its salty-dog rage. And the actors are so good that I would have been happy if the movie had simply followed the day-to-day fates of these three characters.
For a while, it immerses us in the dailiness of life in a district called the Glen, as Fontaine goes through his morning ritual of buying a 40 and a scratch-off card and pouring a shot of the malt liquor into the cup of a homeless old man, Frog (Leon Lamar), who offers him a daily aphorism (“It’s in the water, young blood,” he says — talk about conspiracy!). David Alan Grier shows up as a gospel preacher in full cry, and he’s so mesmerizing that for about five minutes he hijacks the movie.