“Red Tails” Movie Review

     The George Lucas passion project “Red Tails” finally comes to theaters after a long and well documented history of trying to get the film made.  Lucas himself recently said in interviews that he shopped this film to every studio in an attempt to get it made at that level and met consistent resistance because of its proposed all black cast.  Putting up his own money, Lucas financed the entire production and as I expected he went full speed on the visual effects end and spent a lot less on his acting talent.  The result is a mixed bag of which I can’t help but imagine the possibilities of what might have been.

     “Red Tails” chronicles the struggles of a crew of African American fighter pilots stationed in Italy during World War 2.  For some odd reason, the U.S. Military thinks African American pilots lack the skills of White pilots simply because of skin color.  This relegates the Tuskegee airmen, as they’re called, to duty in the rear, escorting supply trains and patrolling areas where there is no chance of combat.  At the Pentagon, they are championed by Colonel A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard) who is pushing to have his men given the chance to prove themselves during missions critical to the war.  Ultimately he succeeds and the Tuskegee airmen go on to have one of the most distinguished air combat records in all of World War 2.

     The air combat scenes in the film, and there are many, are, as expected, quite good.  Since you have George Lucas himself pulling the strings here, one can’t help but to envision the very space battles in “Star Wars” that obviously inspire the combat seen in this film.  Visual effects aside though, the script which contains some of the most cheesy dialogue you may ever hear, ruins the well done battle sequences.  After taking on a battleship all by himself, one of the pilots yells “Take that Mr. Hitler!!.”  I can hardly believe these guys were chatting it up with each other, using G rated dialogue, in the middle of combat, but I suppose since its a movie the audience expects them to say something.  I would think they would be concentrating on what has to be one of the most intense experiences a human being could take on, an aerial dog fight against superior German planes.

     “Red Tails” is full of the standard cliches you would expect from this type of fare.  There’s the scene where one of the black airmen walks into an all white Officer’s Club and told by the big mean white guy to leave or else.  There’s the over worked squad leader who has to secretly turn to the bottle in order to keep himself calm and able to deal with the stresses of war.  This, of course, leads to the character who has to sit him down and tell him it is affecting his decision making, since alcohol tends to do that.  The story also spends a considerable amount of time with a useless sub plot in which one of the pilots flies low enough over a city in Italy so he can identify a beautiful woman waving at him and is then able to find  the exact house from the ground in order to hook up with her.  She, of course, recognizes him as well even though he was flying high speed above her wearing a helmet and goggles. Since she doesn’t speak English, the scenes between them as they try to communicate are down right painful as is the fast moving relationship that ensues.

      I clearly felt Lucas made a big mistake not putting his film in better screen writing hands.  This subject matter screams for the likes of Quentin Tarantino at the helm instead.  You have a top billed Cuba Gooding Jr. who makes no impact what so ever and the rest of the cast is a grab bag of unknown actors who will likely remain unknown since none of them shine.  I can’t imagine watching a movie in the future and thinking to myself “That was the guy who was in Red Tails!” Director Anthony Hemingway should have spent more time with his actors and their performances than he did with the visual effects guys.

     If “Red Tails” was trying to send a message, than it should’ve taken a cue from “The Help” which I consider to be one of the best films of 2011.  In that film, the idea of the racism taking place is shown at a very human level and you instantly feel for the characters.  The characters in “Red Tails” are card board cut outs and their emotions are ruined by the corniness of the things they are forced to say.  I agree with Lucas that the story of the Tuskegee airmen is one which needed to be told, but “Red Tails” doesn’t honor them in the way they deserve. GRADE: D