Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
January 19, 2012
*1/2 (out of four)
Unlike its TV commercial, “Red Tails” thankfully features no dubstep music. (Besides, everyone knows WWII pilots were mostly into chillwave.)
It’s one of the few things the movie does right. Dramatizing the program that tentatively allowed African-American pilots to fight in WWII, “Red Tails” comes from the same true story as HBO’s better-acted 1995 movie “The Tuskegee Airmen,” but never validates the do-over. If you’re going to return to a well, you need to bring your own bucket.
Instead, the George Lucas-produced “Red Tails” brings embarrassingly spoon-fed dialogue like “My god, those pilots are African!” and “Now that’s how it’s done,” the latter line making some American pilots sound like high-altitude play-by-play announcers. The awful script warrants mention of a few more groaners:
>> “Let’s give those newspapers something to write about!”
>> “I hope we meet up with those red tails next time.”
>> “Germans! Let’s get ‘em!”
That’s just during the heavily CGI’d, fake-looking aerial missions. On the ground the squad leader known as Easy (Nate Parker) battles a generic reliance on the bottle and his rebellious best friend Lightning (David Oyelowo) romances an Italian woman (Daniela Ruah) who doesn’t speak English. Clearly, the blossoming of their relationship serves as an inspiration that love requires nothing as superficial as “words” or “basic comprehension of who you’re dating.”
Pilots turning one Nazi into their rival because he’s a “pretty boy” reeks almost as badly as the hammy performance from Cuba Gooding Jr., a pilot in “Tuskegee Airmen” and a Major in “Red Tails” who proves yet again that an Oscar winner can be permanently out of practice.
Of course, “Red Tails” still tells an important story as the military’s reluctance toward the Tuskegee “experiment” diminishes when bigots see that black pilots can fly just as well as whites, if not better. But this feels like the soft-peddled, junior high-approved version, with little information about the program and pacing that says, “You won’t be as bored when only watching it 40 minutes at a time in class.” Disagreed.
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