The tale of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American aviators in the American military, is one of the great American stories, but it’s a story born out of our shameful history of racism.
The George Lucas-produced “Red Tails” sets out to capture a moment of metamorphosis: when African-American men were granted the right to fight through flight during World War 2 and protect a country that had taken so much from them but given them so little.
Sadly, “Red Tails” fails to educate or effectively convey the era, emotions and intellectual struggle these men dealt with in their battle for dignity and acceptance. Instead, the film focuses on giving us “Star Wars”-like dog fights in vintage fighter planes, and trades meaningful characters for superficial archetypes that do little to honor the actual men on which these characters were based.
The story revolves around two pilots: Nate Parker’s “Easy” and David Oyelowo’s “Lightning.”
Lightning is the unit’s best, often freelancing on missions, and also disobeying orders from Easy, his best friend and squad leader.
Easy has a drinking problem and struggles to live up to his father’s expectations, while Lightning has fallen in love with a beautiful Italian woman who lives near their air base.
Here’s the problem. Both of these storylines, meant to humanize these men, are written with the intensity of a dramatic monologue from the TV sitcom “Saved by the Bell.”
Parker and Oyelowo, two excellent actors, do the best with the material they’re given but not even Sydney Poitier with Yoda at his side could raise “Red Tails” out of its swamp of mediocrity.
Not that “Red Tails” completely crashes and burns. The dog fights are thrilling and the aerial cinematography, even when computer generated, is breathtaking.
But the obvious sanitizing of the story of the brave, inspirational men and landmark events on which “Red Tails” is based feels like a disservice to both them and their accomplishments.
Two out of five stars.