The Tuskegee Airmen were heroes in every sense and meaning of the word. Through their perseverance and resolution, they showed the world that patriots were made by virtue of action, not color of skin. Touting a theme so inherent, any movie about the daring group of pilots would at least be decent — or so you would think.

Red Tails

At Quality 16 and Rave
20th Century Fox

Sadly, that’s not always the case, evidenced by “Red Tails,” the George Lucas-produced World War II epic geared around the fighter pilots’ story. It’s not that there’s anything blatantly idiotic in the performances, direction or even the script. There are your typical run-of-the-mill character designs, expected plot developments and somewhat-entertaining air fights. Nothing seems out of place. But at the end of the day, that’s the problem — it’s just all-too-predictable.

The two leading actors, Terrance Howard (“Iron Man”) and Cuba Gooding Jr. (“Radio”), play commanding officer A.J. Bullard and Major Stance, respectively. Bullard spends nearly the entire length of the movie arguing with Col. William Mortamus (Bryan Cranston, TV’s “Breaking Bad”) about whether or not his airmen deserve a chance to fight German pilots head-on. When they finally get that chance, the pilots easily prove their mettle before being assigned to the much more important task of defending bomber aircrafts. Meanwhile, Stance sits sternly on the sidelines, doing little more than looking highly respectable and cheering on his men.

As imagined, both leads adopt the “wise advisor” archetype, doling out tidbits of experience to the younger pilots while observing quietly from raised perches. They play their parts charismatically, but the charm feels out of place, as if stuck behind the wrong characters. To some degree, it’s expected, given the real stars of “Red Tails” are the young pilots who daringly stake their lives for a chance to defend their nation. Unfortunately, we never get the sense that the director (Anthony Hemingway, TV’s “Fringe”) understood this fact. The fledgling warriors, despite all of their sacrifice, aren’t drawn like they deserve the limelight.

In addition to being played by inexperienced actors, the remaining characters are fundamentally one-dimensional — undistinguished and unremarkable in spite of their bravery. If anything, their nicknames (Easy, Joker, Ray Gun, Smoker, etc.) are an indication of just how childish these characters have been made out to be.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the script is laced with corny one-liners in the hopes of making the pilots seem more likeable. Even the scarred German fighter pilot who randomly appears in every battle scene is a ploy to make the pilots look virtuous. In reality, it incites nothing more than a few chuckles directed at the infeasibility of the situation.

Its intentions are all in the right places, but the execution simply isn’t there. That lack of finesse reverberates in every aspect of the movie, and it’s a shame because the airmen, for all their valiance and bravery, deserve a proper tribute — one that isn’t present in “Red Tails.”

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