“George Lucas has lost his mojo,” a friend of my said to me the night before the screening of Lucas’ newest film ‘Red Tails,” and I pretty much laughed it off thinking about early Lucas with Stars Wars, Indian Jones and such, but my mind slipped back to his annoying character Jar Jar Binks of ‘Stars Wars’ and the last Indian Jones film, and I wondered if I should agree. Still, I went to the screening of ‘Red Tails’ with an open mind and sadly, I believe, based on his last few and especially ‘Red Tails,’ my friend might just be correct about ol’ George.
Based on the World War II all Black battalion of ace pilots, the experimental Tuskegee Airmen, ‘Red Tails’ follows the plight of these men against racism and bias, far before King “had a dream.” Mainly these men, all excellent pilots, patrol the skies a hundred miles or more away from any real action, taking out a stray German truck or enemy train, a menial job in terms of war. Considered less pilots and men of lesser intelligence, who are given outdated and aged planes and equipment, they sit on the edge of being closed down and shipped home, but then, they are given the ultimate chance to show their courage and talent.
From this point on and actually, from the onset, Lucas’ film is as transparent and hokey as any I have seen in sometime. Riddled with clichés and stereotypes, the film flounders on terribly written dialogue and cartoonish characters. Lead, at the base, by Major Emanuelle Stance (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and championed back at the Pentagon, by Colonel A.J. Bullard (Terrance Howard), the men face the challenges afford them head on. Problem is, their challenges, as fleshed out by Lucas and crew, seem weak and superficial and the characters appear trite and silly.
I contend that Lucas had opportunity for a film with the same flair and flash as ‘Top Gun,’ but the problem is ‘Red Tail’ is far too much like ‘Top Gun’ but without the any of the creativity, passion, panache and power. It is almost as if he stole every cliché from every airmen film ever, but none of the intensity or excitement. It is all just too trite and superficial. Subplots, most centering around Joe ‘Lightning’ Little (David Oyelowo) and Marty ‘Easy’ Julian (Nate Parker) play out predictably and not to be repetitive, in extremely corny ways. Boy meets girl (in this case a pretty Italian one named Sofia (Daniela Ruah), boy falls in love, boy hangs picture of girl in cockpit and well, I won’t spoil it. We have one hotshot pilot going toe-to-toe with his best friend (the squadron leader) who drinks a little too much. And of course, we get the mandatory racial confrontations, but with about as much impact and strength as a piece of white bread in water.
The Tuskegee Airmen deserve a great movie, and Lucas doesn’t deliver one. If he intent is to draw a wider audience, including kids, then he fails to entertain the parents who must attend with them. My grandson saw the trailers and voiced his desire to see ‘Red Tails,’ but he doesn’t attend screenings on school nights. I told him that if I thought the film was good, I would take him to see it. But his parents are going to have to step up on this one. He may very well like the film far more than I, but I cannot sit though it twice. The screening began just after seven and went on mercilessly until after nine. Even had the film been better, two plus hours is just too long.
It is all just so watered down and disinteresting. Visually, however, the film is stunning. Lucas does still do that well – vivid colors, exciting dog fights and gorgeous panoramics, but even with that said, the print I saw had the center sound reel missing and the picture stayed slightly blurred throughout. As first I thought it was just me, but I took off my glasses, cleaned them, rubbed my eyes and still, blurry. Later I heard several people complaining about the clarity and sound as we departed the theatre and I felt relief – no problems here with my eyes or ears.
And I know my taste isn’t off either. I found Lucas’ film laughable and not in any good way. It runs far too long and is completely and utterly H-O-K-E-Y in the truest sense of the word. I am placing a D+/C-, and not lower because I think his cast and subjects deserve better.