Red Tails (2012)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Red Tails</strong> (2012)

(On-demand, August 2012) It’s nonsense to discuss multi-million-dollar movies in terms of earnestness, but Red Tails is difficult to approach otherwise.  It’s a well-intentioned, often spectacular attempt to restore glory to the story of the Word War 2 all-black Tuskegee Airmen, but it’s marred by a terrible script with flat characters, gag-inducing dialogue and dramatic arcs that couldn’t be closer to cliché.  This mish-mash between good intentions and flat execution makes the film frustrating to discuss, as one threatens to overshadow the other.  Admirably, the film was conceived, financed, produced and partially directed by George Lucas, using his Star Wars money to do some good and tell a story that deserved wider recognition.  As a piece exploring racism during WW2, Red Tails is far more entertaining than the ponderous Miracle at St-Anna even as it scrupulously avoids getting too unpleasant in the details.  Also worth praising are the air combat sequences, shot with crackling energy and showcasing the best of what special-effects technology can now offer to such stock sequences.  There’s a lot to enjoy here, even the somewhat pop-corn treatment of the situation: it’s OK, from time to time, to have a movie in which African-American whoop it up while burning Nazis alive.  As for historical accuracy, well, this is a Hollywood(ish) movie, after all, where “based on a true story” itself can be fiction.  No, what hurts Red Tails a lot more is the amateur script, which doesn’t bother itself with distinctive characters or refined dialogue: everything is on-the-nose obviousness, heard countless times in similar films.  The dramatic arcs are all copy-and-pasted from other movies, without too many surprises.  Even more disappointing is the film’s fuzzy structure, ending on a note that isn’t anywhere near the triumph it should have been.  (“Hey guys, why the funeral?”)  Red Tails really comes alive when it’s up in the air, and even then when characters don’t say anything.  While the dog-fighting sequences are state-of-the-art, everything else feels far too old-fashioned to be satisfying.  But, at least, you can feel that it’s trying really really hard, and kicking the film for what it’s not feels like being unkind to a particularly happy puppy.

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