Thursday, January 19, 2012

Red Tails

I would like to start by thanking the Tuskegee Airmen. My grandfather flew in the B-17 bombers in Italy the same time you were there and I am certain that you brought him home to my grandmother.

George Lucas has been pushing "Red Tails" to anyone that will listen, however to anyone that has been paying attention to his filmography realize that if it wasn't for the Star Wars and Indian Jones franchise, that he has been forgettable. I appreciate that he wants to honor the Tuskegee Airmen, but this wasn't the best attempt. If this was a comic book film the studio would be starting on a reboot. Unfortunately, with as passionate as George Lucas on the topic, the script created by John Ridley and Aaron McGruder is formulaic and lacks the complexity needed to properly show the appreciation that the Tuskegee Airmen deserve. There were just too many side stories that director Anthony Hemingway lacked the control over. The introduction, jump cuts, and overall appearance of the film had an amateur feel to it that it is difficult to take the film serious. The expectation of a George Lucas film is that the Industrial Light & Magic team will deliver a visually impressive film, but even this expectation falls flat during the airborne dogfight sequences.

The main story is one that everyone should know, which is about the 332nd squadron of African-American pilots in the Tuskegee training program during WWII who are stationed in Italy. The squadron is lead by Marty “Easy” Julian (Nate Parker) who uses alcohol to cope with the stress of the war. The rest of his squadron include the rule-breaking Joe “Lightning” Little (David Oyelowo); the religious Ray “Junior" or "Ray Gun” Gannon (Tristan Wilds) who prays to Black Jesus; , Andrew “Smoky” Salem (Ne-Yo), Samuel “Joker” George (Elijah Kelley) and Maurice “Bumps” Wilson (Michael B. Jordan). The sides stories of alcohol abuse and foreign romance don't contribute to the character development and overshadow the more important aspect of a soldier captured behind enemy lines and death.

In an attempt to sell more tickets, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard receive top billing as superiors Maj. Emanuelle Stance and Col. A.J. Bullard, respectively. Unfortunately, their performances are more like caricatures with Cuba Gooding Jr. smokes a pipe and trying to look serious; and Terrence Howard cracking his voice while he gives tough-love advice and taking the political stand to the Pentagon.

One final nitpick would be that with the majority of dialogue occurring while the actors back is to the camera; or with their faces covered by masks the result is the appearance of an audio track that feels dubbed.

I wanted to like this film more, but it really falls short of expectations and the level of respect the Tuskegee Airemen deserve. A 2 Quack rating is probably too generous, but I cannot turn my back on the film entirely. For anyone who would like to see how to properly treat the subject, the 1995 Emmy-winning HBO film "The Tuskegee Airman" (which co-starred Cuba Gooding, Jr.) is highly recommended.

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