Susan Granger’s review of “Red Tails” (20th Century-Fox)
George Lucas’s CG-enhanced aerial dogfights and a final moment of respect are what’s memorable about this tribute to the courageous Tuskegee airmen of World War II.
Back in 1925, a U.S. Army War College survey determined that “colored personnel” were “unfit for military service.” So as the action-adventure begins, a Nazi pilot (Lars van Riesen) leads an attack against U.S. planes whose pilots are determined to retaliate against the enemy, rather than shield the larger bombers they’re escorting.
What the Army needs are skilled airmen with the bravery and, above all, discipline to protect the Flying Fortresses they’re assigned to accompany on bombing runs. That’s where the African-American pilots in the 332nd Fighter Group based at Ramitelli Airfield in Italy come in, combatting the usual racist clichés and eventually winning the respect of their previously suspicious, hostile,
Joe “Lightning” Little (David Oyelowo) is a rebellious daredevil, while Marty “Easy” Julian (Nate Parker) is his stressed-out, hard-drinking superior officer. Yet they’ve formed an unlikely friendship. Maj. Emmanuel Stone (Cuba Gooding Jr.) is the squadron’s pipe-smoking commander, serving under defiant, Washington-based Col. A.J. Bullard (Terence Howard), who persistently lobbies for newer planes and more substantive missions, despite objections at the Pentagon from Col. Mortamus (Bryan Cranston), a bigotedSoutherner.
There are a couple of subplots – one about an interracial romance between Lightning and a beautiful Italian signorina and the other involving a heroic young pilot, Ray “Junior” Gannon (Tristan Wilds), who becomes the first black prisoner-of-war.
Executive produced by George Lucas, who poured $60 million of his own money into the project after being turned down by Hollywood studios, and directed by TV-veteran Anthony Hemingway (“Treme,” “The Wire”) from an episodic, pedantic, one-dimensional screenplay by John Ridley (“U-Turn,” “Three Kings”) and Aaron McGruder (“Boondocks”), it’s based on John B. Holoway’s “Red Tails, Black Wings: The Men of America’s Black Air Force,” referring to the distinctive markings on their P-51 Mustangs.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Red Tails” scores an inspiring 6, skimming the surface as a trail-blazing tale.