Red Tails Directed by: Anthony Hemingway Cast: Nate Parker, David Oyelowo, Tristan Wilds, Ne-Yo Running Time: 2 hrs 5 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: January 20, 2012
PLOT: African-American pilots finally get a chance to show what they're worth in Europe during World War II.
WHO'S IT FOR? Those who want a watered-down version of history, with plenty of optimism and dog-fighting.
EXPECTATIONS: A red flag goes up every time a "big" film comes out in January. Having Lucas' name attached to the project only makes me think the dog-fighting scenes will look professional.
Nate Parker as Marty 'Easy' Julian: From a couple of angles, Parker looks like he went to Denzel Washington's school of acting. It's even more obvious now than when he costarred with Washington in The Great Debaters. Easy is battling the idea of being a reluctant leader. Apparently, he has a demanding father, which means ... he's almost an alcoholic. I don't think a film has ever waffled with alcoholism as much as this one. I can honestly tell you I have no clue if Easy's drinking affected him or any other man in the film, which is why it's so weird when others bring it up. Score: 5
David Oyelowo as Joe 'Lightning' Little: He's reckless. A loose canon. He takes on the enemy without a moment's hesitation. Why? Is it only arrogance? I guess so, because the film fails to go into any details about his drive. Simply having it doesn't make him interesting. His side story involves a love affair with Daniela Ruah as Sofia, a local Italian. But that really stalls with the language barrier. Neither of these paths are bad ideas, just executed poorly. It's too bad, Oyelowo definitely has charisma. Score: 5
Cuba Gooding Jr. as Major Emanuelle Stance: I'm pretty sure the pre-production went something like this. Cuba: My character is missing something. Hemingway: Substance? Cuba: No, I was thinking a pipe! Cuba plays with that pipe more than he does his fellow actors. There's nothing more to it than that. Score: 4
Terrence Howard as Colonel A.J. Bullard: This is a speech and nothing but a speech, so help me god. There is one good moment with Howard where he's happy to hear that he's only know for being arrogant (and presumably, not for being black). Every other second we spend with Colonel A.J., he's giving a speech about how important everything is. This character needed a booming voice for me. Howard's is a little wispy, and perfect for other roles like Hustle & Flow. Score: 4
TALKING: It's clichéd. I'm talking over-the-top. We're immediately hit over the head that Lighting is reckless, Joker (Elijah Kelley) is, in fact, the funny one, etc. But what's really basic is the cultural conversations. All white men hate all black men, until the movie doesn't like that idea anymore. The perfect example of this is a wasted performance by Bryan Cranston as Maj. William Mortamus. He doesn't like black military men, and states that opinion. The end. Score: 3
SIGHTS: Yes, the dog-fighting looks fantastic. I assume almost all of it is CGI, and it's a job well done. Either that or it's easy to do this sort of thing now. I never felt truly impressed, even though I never doubted the authenticity. Score: 7
SOUNDS: I have no clue what kind of music African-Americans were listening to during the 1940s. After seeing Red Tails, I still don't know. "Blue Skies" played for a second, Smokey strummed on a sweet old-looking guitar, and that's about it. Definitely a missed moment. The musical score didn't feel in touch with the times or the drama. Score: 4
BEST SCENE: There's one move that the SUPER EVIL GERMAN does, and Lighting masters it. Sure, it feels a little out of Top Gun, but it's still cool.
ENDING: We're knee-deep in America with African-American soldiers getting some due recognition.
QUESTIONS: Why couldn't the Germans find the American base and shoot it apart? Why is such an easy thing (stick to the bombers) impossible for some pilots to understand?
REWATCHABILITY: It's not high here at all. I could have easily teared up with the weight of this story, but I never came close. The action is passable, but not worth a repeat viewing.
Unfortunately Red Tails feels made for TV, even if the special effects don't. It makes sense. The director has done most of his work on TV ("CSI: NY," "The Wire"). A big pile of the actors actually come from "The Wire." What's odd here is that show is insanely raw and this film is terribly watered down. This is melodrama. The film seems content to remind you that racism is bad, and yet we're supposed to be shocked that people were racist.
I don't feel like I learned anything from Lightning or Easy and these are our main characters. We're supposed to be on some sort of journey with them, but I never felt it. Instead we have long moments of Easy trying to get other pilots to land (some with better success than others) and Lightning taking chances. They repeat this a couple of times, and it seems to these soldiers that war is nothing more than a video game. Red Tails fails to show an authentic story. It never shows us the brutality of war, especially a minority at war.
It's such an extraordinary true story and Red Tails turns it into something extra ordinary, (in other words, really really ordinary).
FINAL SCORE: 5/10