"Red Tails" is about 60 years too late. Had this tale of the historic Tuskegee Airmen been made in the '50s, audiences would have accepted the stereotype characters, passive approach to racism and hackneyed dialogue. By today's standards, the movie never gets off the ground.
In 1944, black pilots in the Tuskegee training program have been segregated away from any real war action. They finally get their chance to show their flying skills as they escort bombers. How well they do on these missions will either ground the program for good or prove that in the sky, the only colors that matter are the flashes of your guns.
Director Anthony Hemingway loads one of the most powerful stories of World War II with two-dimensional characters. There's the group leader (Nate Parker) who can only deal with the pressures of command by drinking. Junior (Tristan Wilds) is the young pilot who can't get any respect. And then there's Joe "Lightning" Little (David Oyelowo), the flying ace who loses his heart to an Italian woman.
Try to guess which one won't be coming home?
Even the commanding officers -- as played by Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. -- strut and fret their way as if they were starring in a World War II propaganda film.
The script by John Ridley and Aaron McGruder follows a very safe paint-by-numbers approach. The Tuskegee Airmen story is a powerful example of racism that prevented talented Americans from defending their country because of the color of their skin. The racist world they had to endure is reduced to one bar fight.
Making matters worse is that the dialogue is riddled with clichés.
The very first scene has the camera push into the cockpit of an American pilot, who spots enemy planes and growls, "Germans! Let's get 'em." The Germans are just as bad, snarling lines such as "Show no mercy."
The dialogue is so forced that at times it sounds like the actors are just reading off a cue card.
Where the film should have soared is with the aerial dogfights. The problem is the digital sequences are so pristine that they look more like a video game than a movie.
If you are looking for a good film about the brave fliers, check out the 1995 TV movie "The Tuskegee Airmen" and, for more exciting aerial dogfights, the 1927 classic "Wings" is now available.
"Red Tails," rated PG-13 for language, war violence. Stars Nate Parker, David Oyelowo, Tristan Wilds, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr. Directed by Anthony Hemingway. Running time: 120 minutes. Grade: C-
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at email@example.com
or (559) 441-6355. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.