In its opening seconds, “Red Tails” is revealed to be inspired by true events surrounding the famed Tuskegee Airmen, the black pilots who helped protect the skies over Europe during WWII.

In its opening seconds, “Red Tails” is revealed to be inspired by true events surrounding the famed Tuskegee Airmen, the black pilots who helped protect the skies over Europe during WWII and who, apparently against the wishes of certain bigoted military brass, even got to go plane vs. plane against German fliers in aerial dogfights.


It’s a great story that falls far short of the movie it could have been. This cliché-ridden, overly melodramatic film reduces everything to bouts of happy (but racially frustrated) flyboys soaring either recklessly or in perfect formation over the skies of Italy and Germany in 1944, while nonchalantly chattering with each other on radio headsets and skillfully picking off would-be Red Barons.


Down on the ground there are white senior officers who, no matter what these guys do, are convinced that “Negroes are inferior,” and shouldn’t be up there helping out the big (white) boys in bombers. Also down there, when the film’s quartet of daredevil heroes – well played by David Oleyowo, Nate Parker, Tristan Wilds, and Elijah Kelley – are off duty, they’re involved in, among other side stories, an improbable romance with an Italian woman, a drinking problem, and a gnawing desire to “see real action” as opposed to being saddled with strafing runs and coastal patrols. Or as one of them moans, “The white boys are the only ones that get to tangle with the Jerries around here.”


These guys complain a lot, and they joke around a lot. In fact, the best parts of the film are when they’re sitting around trading one-liners and barbs. The filmmakers all come from careers in directing or writing for television, and you can feel that they’re much more comfortable with their characters doing that type of fast-paced banter here. When the talk gets serious, the film gets bogged down.


When the film shifts into action gear, the fingerprints of executive producer George Lucas are all over it, and the computer generated imagery goes into overdrive. Unfortunately, that’s not a good thing, since most of the effects are ineffective – many of the planes look like models and much of that action, especially when things start exploding, looks fake.


Running at just over two hours, the film could use a major trimming, cutting out storylines that serve only to put a cap on extraneous plot points that don’t aid the narrative.


RED TAILS (Rated PG-13 for some war violence) Written by John Ridley and Aaron McGruder; directed by Anthony Hemingway With David Oleyowo, Nate Parker, Tristan Wilds, Elijah Kelley, Terence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr. Grade: 2 stars.