daniel cohen looks at the the new WWII drama, produced by George Lucas …
Plot: Black pilots are trained for flight combat in the Tuskegee program during World War II, but are never given a mission of any validity due to their color. When their opportunity comes, they are determined to prove their worth as fighter pilots.
The first 15 minutes of Red Tails is a complete train wreck. I seriously considered walking out, it was that bad. The very first shot of the film is of a German pilot, and the delivery of his first line is some of the poorest acting of I’ve ever seen. Now as the movie went on, it actually settled into something passable, but the inexperience of this director (Anthony Hemingway) permeated throughout the entire film.
The first scene is an aerial attack, and it’s completely lifeless. I can’t stress how horrible the acting is when the pilots are in the planes. This is especially apparent when it’s focusing on the Germans who are portrayed as goofy comic book villains. There’s one guy with a scar across his face. Come on, the scar! Wow. The only thing missing was him shouting “I’LL GET YOU NEXT TIME, GADGET!!” It’s really that ridiculous. There are also the white pilots who are skeptical about the Tuskegee airmen covering their backs. Their dialogue is some of the worst I’ve ever heard in a movie. The delivery was middle-school play level quality.
Now for some odd reason, the acting was actually decent once the pilots were out of the planes, and just hanging out on the air base. There’s a core group of pilots we follow, and they are all clichés, but they at least have distinct personalities, and are very likable. That’s what saved this movie from being completely awful: you really want to root for these characters. The friendship between the two leads, Captain Marty ‘Easy’ Julian (Nate Parker), and the rebellious Joe ‘Lightning’ Little (David Oyelowo) who never follows orders had some good tension. Although, ‘Easy’ has this drinking problem that is never really resolved, and the movie just kind of forgets about it at the end. That’s some lazy writing right there. The other two notable performances are Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr., who really aren’t given that much to do. Howard is pretty good, but Cuba, well…let’s just say that Oscar he won seems like it was in an alternate universe.
One of the reasons you’ll even consider seeing this film is for the flying scenes. Aside from the opening (which really does blow bags), the rest are pretty good; they just aren’t amazing. The direction is a mess. They’ll be times where we’ll see some bad ass Star Fox level barrel rolls, but then they’ll be moments where it lacks any sort of energy. There’s one moment in particular where a major character dies, and the reaction by everyone is on par with the emotions of sharpening a pencil. What the hell was Hemingway thinking!? How do you not say, ‘Yeah, we should probably do another take of that.’ All the dramatic moments are like this. When it’s an aerial scene, the action is solid, but the drama and acting are downgraded to absolute crap.
While I like the characters, and there are some intense battles, there are just way too many negative elements that unfortunately make this a bad movie. The direction is just so poor. It feels like a made-for-TV movie at times. And I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Don’t half ass the score! It can really set the tone. And this score … ugh. George Lucas produced this … he couldn’t get John Williams?
Rating: 4.5 out of 10 (Bad)