Friday, January 20, 2012

A Reel Review: RED TAILS

RED TAILS can be summed up in the first 15 seconds of movie; things start off very somber and serious by explaining a U.S. Army report which concluded that Negro pilots are too cowardly for combat. The film then switches to a decent aerial battle, kicked off with a gawd-awful line of “Germans! Let’s get ‘em!”. It is an example of terrible comic-book style dialogue that plagues the entire film and puts the seriousness of racism and personal struggle in the military into a tailspin.

It is WWII and the American bombers are being blown out of the sky because their protective planes fail to do their job. Meanwhile, the Tuskegee Airmen, the first all-negro unit, is stuck flying non-combat missions hundreds of miles away from where the war is being fought. The unit’s commander, Col. Bullard (Terrance Howard) fights for his men’s right to fight in combat. Despite the efforts of the racist Col. Mortamus (Bryan Cranston), the unit is eventually given their chance to protect vital bombing missions into Germany.

Any decent war film can and should strive on the characters as they fight the fight. In every unit, there are men from all walks of life who must come together as one, and RED TAILS sets the stage nicely. These hotshot pilots include the (ahem) maverick, the alcoholic, the faithful, the southern boy, and the comedian. A great opportunity seemed to be open to see how this variety of soldiers reacts to the blatant racism. Unfortunately, the race issue and the struggle of the Negro soldier is glossed over, as RED TAILS chooses instead to focus on military clich├ęs over and over and over. It comes back to the comic-book dialogue, which does nothing to develop any character or create any sort of emotional connection or drama. With the race issue pushed to the side and the characters worthless, the entire plane-ride feels wasted.

RED TAILS has some very good visual effects and the aerial combat scenes are executed nicely. The problem the battles have goes back to the lame characters we are supposed to feel for when they are on the ground. We are given no reason to care if our own heroes are blown out of the sky. The heavy usage of CGI, while it looks nice, doesn’t quite sell the danger these men are supposed to be in; most of the film feels very much like a cartoon. The movie also seems to suffer from massive gaps in logic and continuity; the unit complains that they are hundreds of miles away from the enemy, but yet an early scene has our guys attacking German supply runs. Which is it? The film also tries to wedge in a love story and a POW camp escape; both of which feel intrusive and stupid.

RED TAILS has a strong cast, but no one can seem to get past the awful writing. The biggest name on the poster is probably Terrance Howard, but all he gets to do is recite long-winded, flag-waving rally-cry speeches which feel like fifty movie-trailers put together. Smaller roles by Cuba Gooding Jr. and Gerald McRaney are just a waste of space, and the racist colonel character by Bryan Cranston vanishes from the film before the halfway point, for no reason whatsoever.

Directed by Anthony Hemingway, RED TAILS has been a passion project of producer George Lucas for many years, but has very little passion to show for it. The most frustrating aspect of the entire ride is that this was finally supposed to give the famed Tuskegee Airmen the defining tribute that they deserve. This is more like an insult.


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