I understand what ‘Red Tails’ tries to accomplish. The film wants to inform the world about the true story of the Tuskegee Airmen. Unfortunately, it sure doesn’t do that very well. Instead, it’s melodramatic, cheesy, stereotypical and mind-numbing.
When World War II began, military officials believed that black pilots were physically and mentally incapable of winning aerial dog fights. Their abilities were put to test in an operation known as the Tuskegee Experiment. Black fighter pilots were grouped together and sent off on low altitude watchdog missions. If they noticed Axis powers infringing on their territory in trains or trucks, they were ordered to blow them up. If they did well, there was the possibility that they’d some day be sent on dog fighting missions – but that was never the real intention of the racist leader (Bryan Cranston) who approved the experiment.
When the Tuskegee Airmen proved to be a valuable asset to the Air Force, they were finally sent on missions protecting bombers to their destinations. Their results were better than those of white fighter pilots, and the Tuskegee Airmen became known as the pilots with red-tailed jets – or “Red Tails.”
As cool as this story sounds, the film’s execution is dreadful. Here’s how the movie spells out the events: The black pilots are better than the white pilots because they don’t ditch the bombing convoy just to blow more Nazis out of the sky. White pilots don’t follow orders – but then again, neither does our small group of black pilots. One of them is a wild card, always breaking orders. In fact, his breaking of orders is portrayed as the reason why the Tuskegee Airmen earn that first bombing run – as if they’re being rewarded for going off mission. “Doesn’t that go against everything we’re supposed to learn about them,” you might ask. Yes. Yes it does.
The entire film is full of contradictions like this and loaded with fluff. As if the actual real-life story wasn’t good enough, a fictional subplot large enough to be a movie of its own has been written in. The wild card pilot falls in love with an Italian woman, and we get a love story even sappier than the one in ‘Pearl Harbor.’
Another odd thing about our “heroes” is how much they enjoy killing. All they want to do is kill Nazis. They feel no remorse whatsoever – even if they kill the non-threatening ones. In the opening scene, they blow up a truck that one of them believes to be a Nazi artillery vehicle. But the truck has no Nazi markings. We’re never even told whether it is or isn’t. The characters don’t care, so the filmmakers think we don’t too.
The only way that ‘Red Tails’ could be any worse is to cast Tracy Morgan as one of the leads. (We get Cuba Gooding, Jr. instead, which is almost as bad.) The awful dialogue sounds like it was pulled right out of a ‘Star Wars’ script: “Red Leader, this is Red Five,” and “Red Four is a go.” The movie even includes “woo-hoos” and one-liners after the heroes shoot down enemy forces. In fact, the look of the film is exactly like that of ‘The Phantom Menace’. The dogfights look more like ‘Star Wars’ than WWII.
‘Red Tails’ is so bad that it makes ‘Pearl Harbor’ look like ‘Saving Private Ryan’. While the real story deserves to be told, the movie does not deserve to be seen. If I was one of the Tuskegee Airmen, I’d be embarrassed by ‘Red Tails’.