‘Red Tails’ fails to take flight on screen

Jack Connors, Staff Writer

“To the last man, to the last bullet, to the last minute, we fight!” Cuba Gooding Jr enthusiastically declares in “Red Tails,” the latest production of LucasFilm Limited, director George Lucas’s personal company. And indeed, to the last minute, the urge to roll eyes was fought with a fury that would impress General Patton himself.

“Red Tails” is the mostly factual recant of the Tuskegee Airmen’s exploits during WWII, notable for their African-American heritage in a segregated US military, as well as their uncanny skill. The film follows a group of Tuskegee pilots, most prominently Joe “Lightning” Little, played by David Oyelowo, Martin “Easy” Julian, played by Nate Parker, Major Emmanuel Stance, played by Cuba Gooding Jr, and Colonel A.J. Bullard, played by Terrence Howard. The plot is incredibly simple to follow, dancing between an inspirational story about overcoming racism and a grade B war movie, ignoring the moral debates about racism in a war against white supremacists, as well as completely brushing aside any questioning of the segregation that led to the Airmen’s inception.

While Gooding Jr and Howard play their characters as best as the script allows, the rest of the cast flounders miserably, pandering to the stereotypes, both racial and military, that define their characters. Many are struck with predictable roles, remaining one-dimensional. Even Howard’s character suffers from “movie military officer syndrome”, giving inspirational speeches at the drop of a hat. The script seems to suffer most when the CGI is full-blast, leading to forgettable sound bites from minor characters. However, this is not constrained to sound bites. The white pilots take 180 degree turns from being die-hard racists to welcoming the Tuskegee Airmen with open arms in the blink of an eye. While this is given a half-hearted explanation, it leaves doubt over whether Lucas meant to portray the Airmen’s plight accurately or light-heartedly.

The special effects, as in most LucasFilms productions, are a comfortable crutch to be leaned on whenever needed. Aerial combat scenes in the movie bring to mind “Star Wars”, from the dramatic dogfights to the on-ground explosions, complete with grey-suited fascists leaping around for little apparent reason. They manage to distract from the stale dialogue and crummy acting, but only for a short period of time.

For those needing a Lucas fix or desiring to see African-American pilots save the day, Lando Calrissian does the task more admirably than the “Red Tails.” Moviegoers would be much better off spending their nine dollars on the well-done Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.