When a film’s main selling point is the involvement of George Lucas in its production, it’s wise to lower yourexpectations.
Based on a true story, Red Tails sees a squadron of pilots, kept separate and subordinate to their white countrymen, given the chance to fly. They show their skill and win the trust of the white-controlled military, as they fight for the USA in Word War Two.
What is particularly odd about Red Tails is that in spite of the fact it’s a film about the way the American military treated its black service personnel, it remains remarkably patriotic, with a level of jingoism that puts Captain America to shame and a complete absence of criticism of the US military. This is probably due to its lack of ambition rather than any political ends, as it fires round after round of action movie clichés at the screen.
There’s the bit where the wife is informed of her husband’s death, the bit where a soldier loses his nerve and has a stern talking-to, the bit where a pilot shouts “yee-ha!” after shooting down a plane and the bit where the racists are won over by the honest courage and bravery of the black pilots. Some scenes appear to be taken straight from The Great Escape or Top Gun. The weak script gives several of the men in the squadron their own subplots, but they’re largely rushed or completely ignored in order to make room for the next dogfight.
To its credit, the shootouts are well done, and with ranks of planes buzzing around each other it’s easy to get a sense of the action. Lucas is famously a fan of classic war films, as his experience in bringing to life epic space battles lends a helping hand to visualising the skirmishes of the 1940s. Of course the action scenes are a little heavy on the CGI, but the excitement they bring to the film goes some way to making up for the dire intervening segments.
It’s fair to say Red Tails has good intentions, and the often chauvinistic action genre benefits from a film which promotes tolerance, but this just isn’t enough, as the film’s plodding sense of inevitability clashes with weak dialogue, several bad performances and a script which never manages to inspire. The lack of emotional investment in the characters rids the showy action of much needed suspense, and those tempted by the idea of a WW2 aviation film are probably better off waiting for Stephen Fry and Peter Jackson’s Dambusters remake.