Red Tails

The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of African-American fighter pilots during World War II. Segregated into their own unit by the racially discriminatory policies of the United States Armed Forces, they served their country valiantly and successfully is spite of the bigotry that they faced. The fact that they chose to serve their country at war, at a time when they were faced with racist injustices from the very government they served, stands as a testament to courage, honor and self-sacrifice and has earned their unit a name that has become a part of history.

Those fine, brave, heroic men deserve a movie far, far better than this.

“Red Tails” is one of the most poorly written movies I can recall.

The themes of the movie are inherent within the source material, I don’t believe that the film furthers them or expresses them in any way of note in any regard. The plot of the movie is straightforward, essentially a historical connect the dots of the missions of note in the unit’s service record. The characters aren’t characters as much as they are caricatures. Each member of the unit is given a simple, over-exaggerated defining trait so that the audience can track them, and then not developed beyond that. And the dialogue consists of some of the most stilted, dumbed down, expository laden, hack calibre lines I can recollect.

One of the first few lines is something to the effect of, “Germans! Let’s get ‘em!”

If it weren’t for the special effects, I’d have felt as if I were watching an original production jr. high school play.

It’s not the cast’s fault. If anything, they perform admirably given the albatross of a script they’ve been handed. Cuba Gooding Jr and Terrence (it’s hard out here for a pimp) Howard have both been in great movies. And they do their level best here. There are veterans of “Friday Night Lights” and “The Wire” in amongst the carnage as well. I was pained as I watched them all do their best to shine through the cookie cutter, cliché laden clankers they were asked to utter.

The one redeeming virtue of this film is the dogfight sequences, although I don’t want to overstate their quality. The special effects were excellent to an extent. Everything looked realistic enough to believe in, even though your mind is never totally sold that you’re not watching an animation. And WWII dogfight recreations can be enjoyable to watch, for certain. Yet, even amongst action sequences, there’s always still a story being told, and the stench of the writing permeates the aerial combat sequences as well. Pilots are consistently arriving in time to aid each other, in spite of wearing flight masks and being in airplane cockpits no one – heroes nor villains – ever has a moment’s difficulty identifying each other, and if by the end of this movie you don’t wonder to yourself just exactly how many shots a fighter plane can withstand without crashing or exploding or, hell, even having difficulty flying… then you and I didn’t see the same movie, because these planes get shot UP, and the pilots are still whooping and hollering in victory all the way home to safe landings.

I normally avoid spoilers entirely in my reviews but here, I can’t help it, this movie left me a little ticked off, so…

SPOILER

I kid you not, there’s one scene where a pilot’s plane is shot up and he needs to be escorted back in order to make a landing. He’s losing consciousness, and his cockpit is filling with fuel. Literally, gasoline is shown pouring in on him like a faucet is turned on fully. When he lands, he crashes, and the plane explodes into a fiery wreck. Remember, he’s had gasoline pouring into his cockpit for at least like five, ten minutes. And yet they PULL HIM OUT ALIVE, and have the gall to say he’s badly burned, but he’s going to “be alright”.

END SPOILER

The Tuskegee Airmen were willing to sacrifice their lives, but this movie doesn’t have the guts to sacrifice its characters.

The Tuskegee Airmen fought through racism and discrimination, but this movie doesn’t have the guts to pay that more than passing lip service.

“Red Tails” is cartoonish and over simplified to the extent that I tired myself out rolling my eyes, sighing, and scoffing at it. My bitterness over the fact that the subject matter is so ineloquently treated tempts me to give it an even lower grade, but the inherent drama in the source material and the occasionally impressive CGI dogfights earn it a:

C

Begrudgingly.

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30 thoughts on “Red Tails

  1. I was curious about this one, as I thought the original Tuskegee Airmen movie with Fishburne was really good. Thought maybe they could add special effects that they didn’t have when they made the first. I live just down the interstate from Tuskegee and have never been to the memorial/museum. Really need to go.

    On a side note, Fogs, what did you think of the movie Hart’s War with Bruce Willis and Terrance Howard? It’s one I own and enjoy watching from time to time. Thought it wasn’t like Oscar material but very well done.

  2. This is the second largely-negative review I’ve read of this movie on the blogs. It’s too bad, I was hoping that this would be good, that it’d be a worthy film of its subject, and maybe remind us of American Graffiti George Lucas instead of Attack of the Clones George Lucas.

    Lucas said he had trouble getting this movie made for 20-odd years because of its primarily black cast. Looking at the reviews, and the success of its would-have-been contemporary film Glory, I have to wonder if he really had trouble getting it made because the studios said “No, this really isn’t very good.”

    • A) Definitely more the “Attack of the Clones George Lucas”, unfortunately.

      B) That was one of the first things that I thought of when I got out of the theatre. (The the real reason it couldnt get made was the script sucked)

      But in all honesty, I can’t believe Lucas has trouble getting any movie made. Just self finance it ya blowhard. Sorry. I get… angry when I think of King George.

      • It may have been the case that he didn’t feel he could afford to self-finance in the eighties when he originally started it. Star Wars was big, of course, but like ‘em or not, the special editions and prequels dumped a metric ton of money into George’s coffers by comparison.

      • Pretty much. $93 million is a staggering amount of money for anyone, even “King George”. He’s said in effect that he had to wait for special effects to get to not just a quality but an affordability level to make the movie.

        Interestingly, Lucas and McCallum had to go to some smaller f/x outfits to do some of the effects because of it. They had to outsource some of the work away from ILM.

      • Well, I guess I didn’t research enough, but I DID see him bitching about studios not financing due to racism.

        Which I found convenient on the eve of release.

        And $93 mil is a lot, of course, but a) when you’re King George you CAN b) Hey, that’s the world of movie finance. Every movie ever made has someone or some company putting money at risk. He’d be more assured of getting his money back if he made a better movie.

        Perhaps he should have scaled back the CGI and spent a couple of bucks on script rewrites.

      • Whoa, I don’t think he was complaining about racism. He was saying that no major studio would finance such an expensive film because there wasn’t any track record for such an expensive film with an all-black cast. And, well… he’s right. As I said, $93 million is a lot of money.

        Now, I grant that he may have some blinders on in that the studios may have read the script and decided that it’s not a very good script either.

        As for making a good movie, I suspect the people who made it would say it is a good movie. I’m pretty sure they didn’t go into it thinking it was bad.

      • “He was saying that no major studio would finance such an expensive film because there wasn’t any track record for such an expensive film with an all-black cast.”

        i.e., Racism.

      • It may be based on business, but “we don’t want to finance a movie with an all-black cast” is racism, and “we don’t think an all-black cast will have success, based on previous results” is essentially saying “we think the audience is racist”. Either way, racism is the crux of the argument, it’s just a question of whose racism is the key factor.

  3. Cgi saved this film; what’s with Cuba Gooding’s pipe? Chief Sunday envy? Tuskegee pilots still important in history.

    • Gooding’s pipe was his character’s identifier. Honestly. Every character had some stupid token or thing that the audience could pin to them.

      I dont even want to share the suspicion I have as to why the writers would utilize such a heavy handed technique.

  4. According to an interview I saw, Lucas did self finance at least part of this. A couple of days later amid negative press he announced he’s retiring from film making! No matter how bad this film is, I hope he’s not done.

    • For what it’s worth, the announcement came a few days before the release of the film (though I think critics had a chance to screen it beforehand), and the tone was — aside from shots at Star Wars fans unhappy about changes — mostly in the tone of “I’ve done everything I wanted to do, so I’m done.” And there’s still a sense that he’ll work on smaller productions, just not the blockbusters.

  5. The dogfights are fun but everything else is filled with corniness, lame acting, predictable story arc, and moments where the film feels like a video-game rather than based on a true story. A great story to be told, but told in a very poor way. Good review my man Dan.

  6. Well, that’s really disappointing. The writers should’ve had more respect for the Tuskegee Airman. Their story should be told to the world, they deserve a good movie in their own. Like an Oscars Award winning type of movie.

    That’s great that the action scenes were worth watching.

    Well, in the end, I guess I saved myself $10. Thanks.

    • You know? It wasn’t direspectful intentionally.

      Obviously, they MEANT to create a movie that featured them, tell their story, and still have a mass appeal so that it could reach a number of people and be a success at the same time.

      It was just so amateurishly done. There were lines of dialogue that caused me to wince. And they gloss over so many of the real issues that these men faced – the racism is bolied down to a couple of moments, and they’re practically bullet proof in the air… it was a tough watch.

    • Apparently the surviving Airmen were heavily consulted throughout the production. It may not have been a great script, but I haven’t seen anything yet to say that anything is inauthentic.

      • Well, hisotrical accuracy may be one thing. But the portrayal/screenplay/dialogue, etc is another.

        I doubt anyone would bitch about a movie made about them that turns them into action heroes, even if its grossly oversimplified. But to the unattached viewer, its hard to believe this is any kind of decent representation.

  7. While you know that I disagree and ended up rather enjoying this film, I must say that I enjoyed reading your review!

    Yours is the first review I have read since writing mine. I’m sure to read a lot more that are not in its favor but that’s okay! I liked it! Thanks for sharing your thoughts man! Nice review!

    • I just thought that it was really, really poorly written. I’m glad you liked it, I never begrudge anyone movie enjoyment. LOL

      Not faring well amongst critics though. 34% on RT. Audience score is at 74%, but that’s always much higher.

      • The biggest complaint I’ve heard about this film, from you and elsewhere, is the corny and/or stilted dialogue.

        I suspect general audiences don’t care nearly as much about that as the more hardcore movie people.

      • Yeah, the cinema score was relatively shocking to me, as was the Friday to Sat pickup (usually taken as a sign of positive word of mouth) I guess over-simplifying has its benefits.

  8. That is a shame. I had high hopes for this one. I thought the film looked good from the trailer. It is a shame that they seemed to have turned what could have been a great story into a vacuous soap-opera with some pretty action sequences.

    • “vacuous soap-opera with some pretty action sequences”

      Describes it perfectly, unfortunately, buddy. :(

      I wasn’t happy to hate on it, it’s certainly a tale worth passing on. I just wished it was treated – not more respectfully, they weren’t disrepectful – but… with more skill, I guess.

  9. Pingback: LAMBScores: Haywire, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Red Tails and Underworld: Awakening | Ada Gratis Two

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