Calling Red Tails: “one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen”, might be a tad harsh. But if I rack my brain for a worse one, nothing springs immediately to mind.
Maybe my disappointment, that the treatment of such promising subject matter was so watered down, got the better of me?
“A high-flying action epic inspired by the heroic exploits of the first all African American aerial combat unit”. The main theme apparently being: the Tuskegee Airmen fighting Nazis in the air and racism on the ground.
Let’s start with the Nazi element shall we? When I was greeted with a shimmering LucasFilm logo at the outset, I cracked my knuckles, popped my first beer and mentally prepared myself for a cinematic treat. At least visually hey? But whilst the flying scenes were special-effects-clever, (nice one boys), they didn’t actually make a whole lot of sense logically.
The skies are so littered with planes, American and German (nobody else was in WWII apparently), that the dog fights defied belief. How can supposedly rookie-pilots weave in and out of their own comrades’ crafts whilst looking up, down, left, right and yacking away (with face masks down); no mid-air collisions, no friendly fire, no barrel-roll unwarranted?
When the Red Tails shoot anything on the ground…and I mean anything…armored cars, trucks, trains, submarines (OK, they’re in the water), planes (at an airfield); everything explodes spectacularly, as if it’s somehow been hollowed out and packed with explosives. (If that’s historically accurate, why did our guys bother making bombs? Bullets must have been cheaper and seemed to do the trick just fine. Perhaps they used a bomb when they wanted to take out a whole city in one fell swoop)?
Contrast this to Germans shooting American planes. Despite the close formation, only one plane is affected at a time; still no mid-air collisions. Even then German bullets don’t seem to have the same explosive power. Fighter planes get gently riddled, so the pilots can take their last heroic breaths or limp back to base. As for bombers, they slowly disintegrate with wings folding off, engines detaching and propellers still turning.
Maybe, if LucasFilm and Industrial Light & Magic had stuck to science fiction films, someone here could’ve produced results that were easier to swallow. (After all, most of us have no idea what’s feasible in a fantasy world with technically advanced fighters). Bah! Action side spoiled for me.
How about the racism side of the film. Again, this didn’t seem historically accurate either. Plus, so middle of the road, I’m surprised the cameraman wasn’t hit by a truck. For every racist incident, there seemed to be a patriotic counter-balance. (Maybe we’re not all bad these days; but I’d guess back then the scales were heavily biased toward the nasty side).
The top brass thinks negroes are intellectually inferior and cowardly in the face of battle. (Which begs the question: why spend money training them, only to give ’em crap planes and stick ’em in the middle of nowhere with no way to get return on investment)? But there’s obviously a good white guy thrown in, who doesn’t judge based on the color a man’s skin and fights to right this wrong.
On the base it’s all blacks. So no sign of racial tension there. The airmen could come and go as they pleased apparently; so one of the main characters strikes up a romance with an Italian chick he’d waved to from his plane. No racism with the locals either.
In fact, the only other incident is when the same officer goes into the (white) American Officers Club in town. The reception is cool, the word n*gger rears it’s ugly head and a fight breaks out. But even that’s offset, later in the flick, after they’ve witnessed Red Tail courage…and the white guys give a patriotic salute and buy the Tuskegees a drink.
I’m sure the true story of the Tuskegee airmen was riddled with sacrifice, racial struggles and patriotic endeavors, But this treatment was so wishy-washy it didn’t reveal any of that. Even the military back drop was laughable. Heroes are the guys who do what ever the f*ck they want (brain optional); nobody follows orders, because there’s no consequences if they don’t. Even the Red Tails get their big chance, by taking over from a bunch of white pilots who don’t follow orders. (Top brass’s solution to one squadron not carrying out their orders is obviously: let’s ask these other guys instead).
When I looked at the credits it confused me that Cuba Gooding Jr. got such high billing? I mean I admire him as an actor, but he had no more scenes than anyone else. Plus, he didn’t really get a chance to shine here. He kinda reminds me of Michael J Fox, in that he has an eternal baby face. Shoving a pipe in his mouth and casting him as a major didn’t really make him seem any more mature or worldly-wise.
I also wondered why George Lucas would attach his name to this project as Executive Producer? But then again, I guess he’s been side-tracked with Star Wars for the past 35 years. (Star Wars 3D now. What’s next; Star Wars scratch’n’sniff)?
All in all, not one I’d recommend. In fact, if you see this one on the horizon, I’d suggest you bank hard right and do a fly-by instead.