Saturday, January 21, 2012

Red Tails Review

What up Internet?  After decades of toil, George Lucas (executive producer) finally brings us his passion project, Red Tails.  The film follows the valiant Tuskegee Airmen and some of their trials and tribulations during the Italian campaign of World War Two.  Still steeped in the intolerant and racist 1940s, the brave pilots had to fight not only the air but on the ground, on a day-to-day basis.  Originally confined to "simple" recon missions the Red Tails (named for the red paint on the tails of their planes) eventually are allowed bomber-protection missions and prove quite successful and gain notoriety.  This all sounds like it would make a compelling narrative...but alas, Red Tails just falls short of the target.

The narrative just didn't work for me.  The aerial combat is a sight to behold; stellar visual effects and stunning camerawork make compelling action sequences.  When the drama lands and dialogue takes center stage...yowza.  Some of the dialogue is compelling and interesting.  The rest of the time I couldn't tell if I was supposed to laugh or be offended (although there are very few actual racial slurs throughout the film).  The dialogue between the Red Tails was borderline camp at times.  Don't get me wrong, I felt the plight of the Tails; not being allowed in Officer's Clubs, being given second-rate missions.  Its just wasn't entertaining.  There is an entire plot thread introduced in the second act that exists SOLELY to give the film a happy ending.  There really isn't a need for it as not much time is devoted to it.  Exactly two scenes, probably totaling five minutes of screen time, was devoted to this plot thread.  Then it comes back at the very final moments of the film to give us a reason to cheer.  At that point Terrance Howard was delivering a speech to his pilots...and would've been a great note to end on.  Most of the plot beats are already-over-used tropes in most military films (bad guy that starts out kicking butt gets his due in the end, cavalier pilot who doesn't follow orders, soldier falls in love with native and bad stuff happens...)

For the most part the acting was not atrocious.  Cuba Gooding Jr. was either miscast or just can't act any more.  Denzel Washington should've been all over this movie.  Perhaps he would've classed up the joint.  I enjoy Terrance Howard and his performance in Red Tails is fine.  The rest of the supporting cast is a mixed bag.  Again, I'm sure if the material these men had to work with was better written they might've been able to do more with it.

As I mentioned before the real star of the film are the visual effects and aerial combat scenes.  Frankly I wanted to see more of them.  And its hard to NOT get a Star Wars vibe during the action.  In fact, many of the sound effects for the fighters sounded eerily like TIE Fighters.  If anything, Lucas has mastered the art of space/aerial combat in a way few others could portray.

At the end of the day Red Tails is alright.  There isn't anything truly spectacular that makes it stand out from the crowd.  Recasting Cuba and a stronger script could've helped to elevate the film to a whole new level.  Instead it flounders on the runway and never truly gets off the ground.

Red Tails is a saddeningly mediocre war film.

The Bullet is out.

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