Monday, February 6, 2012

Red Tails Review

It's proper that Red Tails came out in late January, right in time for National African American History Month or Black History Month. (February) Red Tails is the story of the 332nd Fighter Group during World War II. What made this group of fighter pilots different? They were all African American. In film, this material was previously covered in the HBO movie, The Tuskegee Airmen. (1995) In fact, Cuba Gooding Jr. was in the previous production and is in this new dramatization of the 332nd aka The Tuskegee Airmen. George Lucas produced this film and claimed that he had trouble with funding because of its all black cast. It is the first original film production of Lucasfilm other than Star Wars or Indiana Jones since 1994.

The film starts out during the last years of World War II, American bomber groups were losing a large number of planes due to misguided fighter tactics. Specifically, American pilots would leave their bomber escorts to chase German fighters who were diversions and leave the bombers to fend for themselves against main force of German fighter planes.

Meanwhile, the 332nd is in Italy doing very little. In Washington, Col. A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard) is fighting to have the group get into the fight with racist officers of the Army Air Force who believe that African Americans are inferior. We meet some of the pilots. They are hard drinking Captain Martin "Easy" Julian (Nate Parker); rebellious and maverick Joe "Lightning" Little (David Oyelowo) and young Ray "Ray Gun" "Junior" Gannon. (Tristan Wilds) Eventually Bullar is able to get the 332nd into battle and eventually escort duty accompanying bombers into Germany.

If the description of the pilots sounds familiar, that's because it is. John Ridley
and Aaron McGruder have written a screenplay with a number of old war movie cliches. There's even a ripoff of The Great Escape. (1963) Lucas can complain about trouble getting Red Tails made, but any Hollywood producer would comment about how banal the script is. I mean during the whole movie, there's a German pilot known as "Pretty Boy" ( Lars van Riesen) who serves as the villain. He's so one dimensional, he virtually sneers at the camera. Terrance Howard as Bullard is way over-the-top. He overacts. While a lot of this is the fault of the writers, you can't dismiss director Anthony Hemingway's role in the performances. It's not all that bad, the dialogue between "Easy" and "Lighting" is worth listening to.

That leaves the dogfighting sequences. And they are exciting. Modern CGI technology has created large improvements over the 1995 HBO movie. It's these sequences that keep the movie in the air.

Red Tails is earnest. It's hard to dislike. But it's an old fashioned, cliched movie. The Tuskegee Airmen was a better movie. The grade for Red Tails is B Minus.

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