Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
Length: 120 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for some sequences of war violence.
Theatrical Release: January 20, 2012
Directed by: Anthony Hemingway
Written by: John Ridley & Aaron McGruder.
Terrence Howard - Colonel A.J. Bullard
Cuba Gooding Jr. - Major Emmanuel Stance
Nate Parker - Marty "Easy" Julian
David Oyelowo - Joe "Lightning" Little
Ne-Yo - Andrew "Smokey" Salem
January 22, 2012
Grade: C (Rotten)
Red Tails has supposedly been in the Hollywood pipeline for over twenty years, never finding financing because of the African-American-driven cast. George Lucas has been behind the project from the beginning, and finally became so fed up with the studio system that he decided to finance the film himself. The bad news about making this kind of information known is that it makes one wonder just how long the script was collecting dust before shooting began. Red Tails has Lucas’ fingerprints all over it in that the action scenes are thrilling, but pretty much everything else is half-baked and a cliché of a cliché.
The legend of the Tuskegee Airmen is known to many, especially those who saw HBO’s very good 1995 film, The Tuskegee Airmen. Don’t expect to learn much more from this film. The movie follows the rise of the airmen as they go from executing miniscule missions hundreds of miles away from enemy lines to working as escorts and protectors of America’s bombers. On the ground we follow one of the airmen, Joe "Lightning" Little (Oyelowo), who falls in love with an Italian woman, Sofia (Daniela Ruah), and his superior officer, Marty "Easy" Julian (Parker), who’s battling a drinking problem.
The aerial combat scenes, of which there are many, are seamless, thrilling, and exciting. There’s an in-your-face quality that really brings a sense of danger, and the illusion consistently remains complete. The subplots on the ground, however, are another story. The love story is not only implausible (the whole thing comes about because Little sees Sofia blowing him a kiss...from his plane!) but not even remotely interesting. Even a development involving one of the men being captured by enemy Germans is undercooked and ends before it begins.
And speaking of the enemy Germans, the screenplay focuses in on an unnamed, scar-faced German pilot who says things like "Die, you foolish African!" Please. They may as well have just given him a monocle and a top hat to go with it. The Tuskegee Airmen’s situation was far from simple, but the screenplay has pared it down to a bunch of fight scenes, lame subplots, and a series of generic, uplifting speeches delivered by a robotic Terrence Howard.
Red Tails never seems interested in teaching us much about the Tuskegee Airmen, so one can only deduce that this project has been an action film using the Airmen as a base story. Sorry, that doesn’t cut it when you consider the historical significance of their accomplishments and what they meant to America’s World War II effort. Red Tails may do their bravery and sacrifice justice in the air, but on the ground it’s hard to believe they lived the lives of those scripted in this stale screenplay.
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