Red Tails Review
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Hollywood loves its real-life heroes. From athletes to innovators, the most extraordinary real people often make for the most fascinating (and award-winning) films. But the heroes in director Anthony Heminway’s Red Tails seem to be missing one of the key elements typically found in the best real-life dramas: believability.

Based on an inspiring true story, Red Tails follows a squadron of African American fighter pilots as they battle for equality during World War II. As the war rages on elsewhere in the world, they’re stuck in a quiet part of Italy, flying dull missions in old, run-down planes. But it could get even worse—and as rumors spread that their unit is about to be shut down, their commanding officer, Colonel A. J. Bullard (Terrence Howard), travels to Washington to argue their case.

When the men finally get assigned to an important mission, then, they’re all eager to prove themselves—even if it means trading the glory of shooting down the enemy for the honor of protecting their fellow soldiers.

The legendary Tuskegee Airmen truly are heroes—daring, strong-minded men who often had to fight against their country in order to earn the right to fight for their country. Unfortunately, though, Red Tails simply doesn’t do them justice.

Instead of telling a thrilling true story about a group of heroic young men and their battle for equality, the film spends most of its lengthy runtime caught up in clichéd drama. It tends to focus less on the characters’ collective achievements and more on their disagreements, their personal struggles, and their awkward romances—in other words, the stuff that doesn’t really matter.

The characters themselves, meanwhile, are blatant stereotypes—many of whom seem to have walked right off some Vaudevillian stage. The African American characters are often ridiculous and embarrassingly over-the-top, and one can’t help but feel sorry for poor Cuba Gooding, Jr., whose pipe-puffing Major Stance seems about as authoritative as Santa Claus. The white characters, on the other hand, are flat and wooden—and generally just plain sinister. From evil Nazi pilots to evil American soldiers, they show nothing but pure, unconcealed hatred for the black airmen—with only a few exceptions. It’s all so overdone, in fact, that it often feels more like a parody of a corny old melodrama than a serious war movie.

Granted, the flight scenes are exciting and explosive, portraying the sheer chaos of air combat. But even the most thrilling moments fall short, limited by the film’s weak special effects.

Red Tails definitely isn’t Top Gun. Instead of an exhilarating adventure about a band of real-life heroes, it’s a cheesy, cliché-ridden story about a bunch of walking stereotypes. Brave, determined men like the Tuskegee Airmen deserve much better.

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