Red Tails movie poster
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Red Tails movie poster

Red Tails Movie Review

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Don't judge a book by its cover. The theme runs strong through Red Tails, about the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II who faced not only hardship from the Nazis but more-than-simmering racism from within their own ranks. The common phrase can also be said about the movie itself, which, while far from being a great war movie, is a surprisingly entertaining one.

Everything about Red Tails screamed disaster. The posters and logo made the movie look like a TV movie from the early nineties. The trailers implied the same. Hell, the mere presence of Cuba Gooding Jr., who hadn't starred in a theatrical release in years, contradicted the assertion that Red Tails was a George Lucas-funded war movie being released nationwide (coincidentally, Cuba Gooding Jr. starred in the 1995 TV movie The Tuskegee Airmen).

In some ways, Red Tails does feel like it's out of the early nineties. From the opening credits to the simple dialogue and us-versus-them-and-nothing-in-between story, the movie would have had a better shot had it been released 20 years earlier. Not so coincidentally, George Lucas first started working on this project back in 1988.

Ever since the Star Wars prequels, everyone has pretty much dismissed Lucas, who directed reshoots for the movie after first-time director Anthony Hemingway got tied up with other work, for lazy storytelling and developing one-dimensional characters. Even though Lucas didn't write Red Tails, those attributes hold true with the movie. However, there are two things that Lucas can do reasonably well: action and visual effects.

The many aerial battles are well done and supported by relatively strong special effects (for a movie that cost $58 million to make), even though the trailers suggested otherwise. And while action and effects are not enough to make a good movie, coupled with an inoffensive script, Red Tails is shockingly fun to watch.

Aside from the forgettable characters and hammy dialogue, where Red Tails needed the most improvement was a sense of building to something greater. Between each action scene the characters return to their base in France to talk, argue, get called the N-word and occasionally screw local girls. They then return to the skies for their next battle. But there is no sense that more is on the line each time they go up into the air; the climax is no more suspenseful than the opening battle, or anything in between. In their attempt to show the personal hardships of the black pilots that risked their lives for their country and the world, the filmmakers forgot to put the story into more important context: beating Hitler and surviving. Ironically, their message would be seen by many more people had just a little more effort been given to this aspect of the story.

Red Tails is far from great, and ultimately it will be quickly forgotten because it lacks the grit and thrills that modern audiences expect from war films. But taken for what it is, Red Tails is a wistfully enjoyable little movie that has likable characters, harmless drama, very good visual effects and entertaining action sequences.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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