“Take that, foolish African!”
- Line from the film or Lucas to his new audience?
During the Second World War, 450 black men were sent into aerial combat, running more than 200 bomber escort missions, and during Red Tails, we feel as though we have seen all 200 in real-time. George Lucas is executive producer, and he has announced that this is his last (except not really) popcorn film. Apparently, it attracted so little interest that Twentieth Century Fox distributed only if Lucas paid for everything. If he were working a corner, that’s like paying the clients for the right to call yourself a hooker. Still, Lucas has been chipper about this foray into attracting a Black audience and their dollars, boasting about a mostly Black cast, director, producer (not himself, although if he claimed to be Black, that would have been awesome), and writers, with a score by Terence Blanchard. The deck has been stacked. At an advance screening, Al Sharpton exclaimed “It’s probably one of the best movies I’ve ever seen!” Ever the voice of measured calm. Why Tyler Perry wasn’t tapped to direct is beyond me, but that would have made Red Tails a hilarious smear of histrionic twaddle. I suppose this cast was in part to enable the tower defense of RACIST against any attacks on its shitty quality, but if Red Tails is representative of the Black Community, then its production team is guilty of hate crimes. The story of the Tuskegee airmen is pretty good, but you would have no idea from this dull piece of fuck.
The acting is terrible, listless, and occasionally sounds like the words are being read off cue cards by someone at gunpoint. Terence Howard plays a Colonel who needs to give periodic triumphant rah rah speeches, except he couldn’t express real emotion if his shoes were on fire. Cuba Gooding has not been a mark of quality since maybe Boat Trip, and he chews on a pipe like a five year old went into Dad’s drawer and found a new toy. His attempt to do a ‘grim’ face is more pathetic than a worm on a hook trying to escape. The dialogue is bad enough to make the Nazi characters sympathetic. Lucas bragged that there is an hour of combat scenes, and I think that is probably true. But that means over an hour of quiet scenes of chatting and bonding where the screenwriters futilely attempt to simulate what humans call ‘conversation’. Some of these include white people who bandy about epithets to remind us idiots that there is this thing called racism, and, against all we once thought, it is indeed bad.
The characters are stock from stem to stern; the leader with self-doubt, the aggressive hotshot, the Jesus freak. The whites are all kind of the same person. There is one German character who is skilled, and hunts American pilots because he is evil, not because it is his duty as a soldier. He uses the line above, which just made my day. The rest is dull exchanges with such bon mots as “Let’s give the newspapers something to write about”, or “How do you like that, Mr. Hitler?” During the opening credits, American bombers are shot to shit because the escort fighters ran off to shoot down enemy fighters instead of protecting the bombers. One pilot exclaims “Damn those glory grabbing bastards!” Now if only there was a group of pilots that would be proper escorts… I wonder if the film will fill that need at some point with some scrappy underdogs. And I wonder if some of these honkys would eventually have a change of heart, or if the leader develops self-confidence or the hotshot gets shot down after doing something inadvisable. Red Tails is unpredictable like LA weather. The death of the hot shot is especially funny, as a whole subplot is set up where he romances an Italian woman and they are all set to be married. It resembles that scene from, well, Hot Shots!, where one pilot is about to go on a mission and tells his wife he loves her while black cats cross his path, he walks under a ladder, she breaks a mirror, and expresses just how perfect life is. When you reiterate a storyline from a spoof in your dramatic film, there is a serious failure at the screenplay stage.
Meanwhile, the combat video game scenes are okay, but the breaking planes are as interesting as so much balsa wood, and the deeply boring execution makes the action even more listless and pointless. The sound quality also sucks, going in and out in the wrong places. I know the actions of the Tuskegee airmen were actually important during the War, but if the filmmakers don’t give a shit, I don’t see why I should. The scenes of BANTER and the love story via translator dictionary, the pointless subplot about a POW camp that barely exists and passes like a fart in a blizzard, oh god, make it stop. Even the remarks about race fail to arouse, as other films have rendered the subject with a sense of history and scope.
Lucas admitted that the legions of fanboys have worn him down about his aggressive milking of Star Wars. Who knew the random and pointless anger of the internet could accomplish something great? Still, he is planning to pursue small art films, so we will get to see CGI clouds add texture to small personal dramas or something. Well, small art films and the next, hotly anticipated Indiana Jones movie where Indy fights Nazi exiles in Brazil to establish a public health care system.