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Movie Review: ‘Red Tails’

By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060


If only the filmmakers telling this story were as high-flying and ambitious as the heroic characters their movie celebrates.

Red Tails is an inspired-by-real-events historical drama about the Tuskegee Airmen, the first group of African-American fighter pilots in the United States’ armed forces, formally known as the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the Army Air Corps.

22 Movie Review: Red Tails

(2 stars out of 4)

The racially themed action-adventure story is better when it’s literally up in the air than when it’s down on the ground, because too much of what takes place down on the ground is metaphorically up in the air.

The film focuses on the struggles and action of the 332nd Fighter Group in Italy and Sicily, as they escort World War II bombers across Europe and fly missions over Germany with their tails painted red, which gave them a nickname and their movie a title.

In the segregated army of the period, what these kept-on-the-ground pilots are fighting for, as they overcome obstacle after obstacle, is the ironic chance to sacrifice their lives for a country whose people continue to display bigotry and discrimination against them.

They are thus invited to fight Nazis while they’re still fighting segregation.

When the war in Europe takes an extensive toll, Army brass decides in 1944 — just when the courageous young African-American men are about to be shipped back home — to let these as-yet untested military aviators in the experimental Tuskegee training program take off.

Terrence Howard (who played a Tuskegee pilot in Hart’s War) and Cuba Gooding Jr. (who starred as a fighter pilot in the 1995 HBO telemovie The Tuskegee Airmen) play the mentors of the young top guns.  Gooding is Maj. Emanuel Stance, a senior trainer, while Howard plays bureaucracy-fighting and racism-opposing Col. AJ Bullard (loosely based on Cmdr. Benjamin Oliver Davis Jr., one of the first few African-Americans to graduate from West Point).

Anthony Hemingway, an experienced TV director making his feature-film debut, works from a blandly problematic screenplay by John Ridley and Aaron McGruder that has too many shapeless scenes, not enough dramatic energy, and far too many lines that read like tentative first-draft stabs that someone forgot to spruce up later.

Although the plot meanders, Hemingway makes use of some splendid computer-generated special effects in the battle segments.  But verisimilitude largely escapes him.

Furthermore, executive producer George Lucas seems to have his fingerprints all over this one, and that’s not necessarily a good thing, even though he was admirably instrumental in getting this well intentioned, long-gestating project to fruition.

During the extended aerial-dogfight sequences, it sometimes seems as if Lucas is determined to relive his Star Wars climax over and over again, at the expense of what should be the film’s central theme.  Every time the film veers in an aerial-fight video-game direction, it reduces its impact.

The actors — including Nate Parker, David Oyelowo, and Tristan Wilds as young fighter pilots — do okay, although their exuberant behavior during combat seems comic-book shallow and unrealistic, both individually and collectively. Perhaps their director was too busy choreographing action to notice the acting.

Only Howard, in his handful of stirring moments, shows us what could have been with a more inspired approach.

So we’ll fly 2 stars out of 4 for Red Tails, a mediocre movie about the Tuskegee Airmen, who deserve a much better one.


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  • Xavier

    My take…..

    I saw Red-Tails over the weekend. Well on Friday. It was a Hack Job. Don’t get me wrong. It was a good movie. And despite the fact that it was much better than the movie “The Tuskegee Airmen” (Staring Cuba Gooding and Laurence Fishburne) and ranked #2 in the weekend Box Office ratings, It could have been better. Much Better.

    The special effects were outstanding. The Directing was mediocre and the acting even worst. Although a couple of the main characters did provide moments of believable acting….momentarily. Actually two small role characters were quite memorable and despite having very small parts were very entertaining and I would love to see them again. But for the most parts, the lead characters were one…sometimes two dimensional. (For Reals?) Yup…and you really do need three dimensional acting to really be effective.

    There were four main characters.

    Terrence Howard played Colonel A.J. Bullard, the Base Commander.

    Although the acting Terrence Howard performed in “Hart’s War”, ironically as a shot down Tuskegee Airmen, was technically brilliant, he was miss-casted in the role as the Base Commander. There is a reason Terrence Howard was replaced in the supporting role as Lt. Col. James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes in Ironman 2 by Don Cheadle. Terrence Howard just doesn’t have the depth to portray a strong military leader. Terrence Howard career would skyrocket if he sought roles as a villain. By-the-way, despite the bad acting and Hacked scenes, Don Cheadle as the Base Commander could have carried this movie by himself. In fact he probably could have played all the parts. Paint a mustache here, a bald head cap for that characters there, extra padding and a beard over yonder for another character over there and you would have had a very rewarding awarding winning movie. Just about anything would have been an improvement over what was presented. Especially over the character Cuba Gooding played.

    Cuba Gooding played…I think he was the base executive officer. His role wasn’t all that clear.

    And what’s with the pipe Cuban? You look like a fake General Douglas MacArthur.

    Well he really did look like he was imitating General Macarthur. It looked completely phony, out of character and I was expecting him to say something MacAuthur-lish stupid like, “I have return” or, “Americans never quit”. And although he didn’t quote any Douglas MacArthur lines…actually he may have….he did have some corny one-liners and he did look stupid…with that pipe.

    Okay…I like Cuban but this was not a good part for him. He was rather…terrible. The part he played should have been play by a stronger actor. Even with the horrific lines, someone like Wesley Snipes, even with bubbles coming out of that pipe, would have put the movie on a different/higher level.

    The squadron Leader/wing leader…whatever… which was played by Laurence Fishburne in the movie “Tuskegee Airmen”, should have been played by ……Laurence Fishburne. Again, this was a part for a multi-dimensional actor. I know, Laurence Fishburne is 50 years old and weighs in about….3000lbs now. But still…would have been more believable than that stupid pipe.

    Then there was the trouble making, Hotshot slash Tom Cruise slash “Officer and a Gentleman” slash Errol Flynn of a pilot that everyone is supposed to love. How 1940’s. Well he played his part to the serotype. Despite being so…hummm….unoriginal and predictable, (At times I really did think I was watching a poorly made 1940’s Hollywood war film) the actor, Tom Cruise David Oyelowo (Pronounced – “oh-yellow-oh”) as Joe ‘Lightning’ Little, played his part well.

    There were a couple of characters straight out of the HBO series’ “The Wire” They were thugs in that show and despite no thuggish activities they appeared to be thugs in the movie. They even put (Oh No They DINIT) Method Man in this movie. See…you can be type-casted. Just ask Pee-Wee Herman, Sponge-Bob, Gilligan (Bob Denver) and Leonard Nimoy (Spock).

    Being unsupported by Hollywood I was surprised to see this movie draw such a large crowd. I got to the theater early and still had to hunt for a seat. And people were still poring in after the show started. According to George Lucas, he had to pay for this movie out of his on pocket because Hollywood refused to support a back movie. So it got very little advertisement…which was also paid for by George Lucas. Ok…pet peeve…even George Lucas wouldn’t have ante-upped for this movie if it weren’t for his African American super hottie girlfriend, Mellody Hobson pulling the purse strings. Yes I’m jealous –where’s African American my cutie….I’m old, ugly and impotent too!

    The audience loved the movie. They gave it an obviation at the end. I gave it a B-.

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