The ‘Red Tails’ Splutter

Courtesy of the 20th Century Fox

There are good stories, and there is good storytelling. If there is anyone who embodies the former and not the other, it’s George Lucas, the creative mind behind the “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” franchises. While he’s had several critically acclaimed blockbuster hits,  many of his movies of late have been mostly a miss.

Still, the CGI-obsessed Lucas does have a penchant for telling fun, fantastical stories with near-mythical figures like Luke Skywalker and Dr. Jones. However, while his stories may be entertaining, his methods of storytelling have lately gone the way of educational funding.

With “Red Tails,” Lucas’ pet production company, Lucasfilm Limited, takes on its first production since 1994 that is not associated with the “Star Wars” or “Indiana Jones” franchises. Anthony Hemingway, who has directed episodes of popular TV shows, helms his first feature film.

The story revolves around the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American pilots in the United States Army who fought in World War II. Despite the racial adversities of the time, including Jim Crow laws and segregation in the military, the men served proudly and fought fiercely, earning distinctions for their successes in combat. The group of pilots flew fighter planes with the tails painted red, and as the group’s reputation in combat grew, they acquired the nickname “Red Tails.”

The movie of the same name features a huge cast, prominently starring two actors who had portrayed Tuskegee pilots in earlier films: Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard as Major Emmanuel Stance and Colonel A.J. Bullard respectively. While Major Stance commands the men at the airbase, Col. Bullard fights the political battle at the Pentagon, exchanging verbal blows with Col. Mortamus (Bryan Cranston) regarding the survival and purpose of the Tuskegee unit.

Equipped with out-of-date fighter aircraft, the Tuskegee men are relegated to mop-up duty in 1944 Italy, flying patrols hundreds of miles behind the front line and never seeing any combat. That changes when Col. Bullard pulls some strings to have the unit fly escort to protect heavy bombers above Germany, now armed with the engines and firepower of their new red-tailed P-51 Mustangs at their fingertips.

“Red Tails” is sure to entertain with its spectacular dogfight sequences. Lucas studied hours of WWII aerial combat footage for his dogfights in space when making “Star Wars,” so creating aerial sequences in the atmosphere is no problem for him. Other than the shots in the air, there are few other locales in the film that showcase great CGI — panning shots feature the Italian coast and city skyline. When the movie is about pilots, though, having most of the action in the clouds isn’t a bad thing.

The men, when not skillfully and bravely flying their planes, are like a group of brothers on the ground. Their chemistry gets them through hard times, and the camaraderie makes for some humorous and emotional conversations.

The dialogue, though, is no “The Shawshank Redemption.” The lines are short and at times incredibly corny, and the jokes are mostly moderately clever one-liners. The brisk, clichéd conversations get old really fast, and as the corniness piles up, so does the level of cringe-worthiness.

“Red Tails” is not a documentary that records the struggles and achievements of the 332nd Fighter Group down to the grittiest detail. It also isn’t a war film accurately depicting the horrors of combat, segregation in the military and the companionship of soldiers. It is a movie that romanticizes the Tuskegee Airmen as fantastical heroes who were able to defeat a scary, technologically superior enemy through courage and trust in one another. Unfortunately, the fantastic element reaches the level of corny and cliché that completely derails a move that already doesn’t take itself seriously.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5