Thanks to the wizards at Industrial Light & Magic, George Lucas’ thrilling World War II epic “Red Tails” opens with an edge-of-your-seat aerial combat worthy of any “Star Wars production.” No, …make that “better” than any “Star Wars” production. What Lucas puts on the screen is breathtaking.
However, the real battles are fought on the ground in this film. Set in Italy during 1944, Terrence Howard stars as Col. A.J. Bullard, who oversees the historic Tuskegee Airmen consisting of ace African-American fighter pilots “Lighting” (David Oyelowo), “Easy” (Nate Parker),“Ray Gun” (Tristan Wilds), and “Deke” (Marcus T. Paulk) who fly every mission to gain respect and racial equality in the military.
Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding Jr. plays curmudgeon Major Emanuel Stance who spends a good part of the film chomping on his pipe before sending the pilots on missions unworthy of their talents. Since Gooding was in the original made-for-TV movie about the Tuskegee Airmen, it would have been nice to see him have a more fleshed out role.
Between dogfights with the Luftwaffe and patching together hand-me-down dilapidated aircraft, several sub-plots involving a love affair between Lighting and a local Italian girl (Daniela Ruah), and Easy’s battle with alcohol underline the film between aerial battles.
In the interim, Bullard fights with racist, PR-driven military brass who refuse to issue his men new planes, and to let them fly missions to protect bombers that their white counterparts have allowed to be shot to pieces.
However, after several failed missions, the military brass grows weary of the Luftwaffe using U.S. bombers for target practice. They finally green lights Bullard’s men to escort a fleet of U.S. bombers to Berlin. New planes are issued, and the pilots paint their plane’s tail a distinctive scarlet red the signature of the Tuskegee Airmen.
The third act of “Red Tails” pits the elite Tuskegee flyboys against the Luftwaffe’s new jet powered aircraft. The ensuing dogfight begins at 10,000 feet and ends at the edge of your seat. “Red Tails” is a spectacular film to watch.
Even though race is an underline issue in the film, to the filmmaker’s credit, racial issues never get too heavy-handed where it detracts from the excellent storytelling, and the fact that “Red Tails” is adrenaline-pumping entertainment.