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Review: Red Tails

01.20.2012

PLOT: The story of the Tuskegee Airmen- an all black WW2 flying unit, that, despite the inherent racism of the military at that time (segregation existed until 1949), fought its way to a distinguished war record, saving the lives of thousands of men station in flying fortresses, who they protected on bomber missions.

REVIEW: I feel like I’ve been hearing George Lucas talk about RED TAILS for decades, with the story of the Tuskegee Airmen long being a passion project of his. Significantly, it’s the first non-STAR WARS Lucasfilm since RADIOLAND MURDERS. Considering the years Lucas spent on the project (which may have included significantly reshooting part of the film himself, although Anthony Hemongway of THE WIRE is the sole credited director), one would have expected RED TAILS to come out better than it did.


Lucas has been saying that RED TAILS is basically just a modern-day version of an old John Wayne flag-waver like FLYING LEATHERNECKS, albeit with an all-black cast. Sure enough, that’s exactly what RED TAILS is (if anything, some of those films are actually less corny than this), but it begs the question- why? Considering the subject, why did Lucas set his sights so low? He could have made an epic, as the story of the Tuskegee Airmen is a thrilling, important tale that needs to be told. Yet, all we get here are about a half-dozen heavily CGI-ed dogfights that look left over from FLYBOYS (well, maybe not quite, as that was WW1) and some really goofy drama. All the stock characters are here- the stoic commander (Terrence Howard), the alcoholic squadron leader (Nate Parker- in the John Wayne role), the hotshot rebel (David Oyelowo), the kid (Tristan Wilds- of THE WIRE), the religious guy, the goofy ground mechanic (played by Andre Royo- aka Bubbles), the hideously scarred Nazi bad guy, etc. Heck, there’s even a totally unnecessary POW subplot that has a scene directly lifted from THE GREAT ESCAPE!


For what it is, RED TAILS isn’t that bad. The cast, which is a who’s who of prominent young black actors, is mostly solid, with Parker and Oyelowo being particularly good, even if the latter is essentially playing a WW2 version of Maverick from TOP GUN. But it’s infuriating that the dramatically inert RED TAILS isn’t a better film, as the premise is a great one. In fact, fifteen years ago, HBO made a phenomenal TUSKEGEE AIRMEN bio-pic starring Laurence Fishburne and Cuba Gooding Jr. (who also pops up here, as the second-in-command to Howard) that’s ten times the film this is, despite having a fraction of the budget. Rather than focus on the carnage Lucas thinks appeals to his STAR WARS fans (which, it should be argued, actually doesn’t if you look at the way fans reacted to the prequels), he could have made a film with a lot of heart that told an important WW2 story that never got it’s due back in its day.

As it is, RED TAILS is just a CGI-heavy action flick, with cardboard characters. It’s not awful, but it’s very mediocre, and the type of film that goes in one ear and out the other. Too bad Lucas couldn’t set his sights higher than mediocrity.

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Extra Tidbit: Terrence Howard also played a Tuskegee Airman in HART'S WAR.
Source: JoBlo.com

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