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Red Tails  

A Lucas lesson in how to be frenetic and action packed while being dull and flat., 14 April 2013 [Blu-Ray]

The story of the Tuskegee airmen is a wonderful story full of genuine drama - heroism, overcoming of racism, America growing up in its attitudes, formation of what was essentially a highly trained and decorated unit despite every obstacle they faced. In this version though, the storytelling is alas so clunky, that no end of beautifully photographed postcard Italy and shoehorned romantic subplot or inserted action scenes can rescue it. There is a good looking cast and some genuine production values, but saddled with a script which from the opening scene seems amateurish and contrived, sapping the movie of the genuine awe and respect of the airmens achievements that they deserve. Cuba Gooding Junior needs to find something gritty to rebuild his career, and Terence Howard survives the movie with some dignity and gravitas, but the lines and situations they are given to handle are flat and artificial. The movie charts the pilots in the squadron, trying to show their different ways of handling the stress, while building up from their initial delegating of trivial flying tasks to their escorting of bombers to Berlin, against a squadron (!) of German jet fighters. There is less a plot, more a series of subplots charting the evolution of the squadron - and some of those subplots just go nowhere. When one of the pilots was captured and we see him arrive at a PoW camp, I thought this was finally going to show what it meant to be of African American descent captured by the Nazis, but no - the moment is squandered. If the script is handled in screenwriting 101 style, it isn't helped by the lack of weight in the effects - you'd have to say on the face of it, that the planes actually look very well rendered.. it's hard to imagine improvements in what cgi could do - and yet... they just don't look real, and the physics of how they are thrown around the sky doesn't look real either. How much more satisfying and thrilling it would have been to have real aircraft in dogfights - but I guess these days that may just not be possible any more.

At the end of the day, the Lucas brand, even only as producer, has not been advanced from his Star Wars days with this effort, and the movie plays out as if an adaptation of a comic strip - when what the story needs is something gritty and real to truly express the horror, the bravery and the historical importance of what the Tuskegee airmen did.

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