I’m tempted to forego a review of Red Tails and just publish the screenplay.
“My God! These pilots are African!”
“They’re giving up glory to save us!”
Should I go on?
I won’t, for your sake, but just to be clear: the dialogue in this movie sucks. Like, really sucks. For whatever reason, the writers assume their audience possesses a collective IQ of 49 and consequently feel the need to spell out everything occurring on the screen. White soldiers explain that they don’t trust the black pilots; Nazis exist as evil caricatures muttering evil-sounding German phrases; and Terrence Howard all but narrates the story’s themes with a sense of cloying, Oscar-baiting melodrama that verges on comedy. It all comes off as stupid and extremely unnatural. And maybe it would make sense to be so heavy-handed if the plot—
Oh wait, the plot. To even use the term implies narrative structure, things like conflict and climax and resolution. So instead we’ll use “loose collection of one-note characters partaking in a series of unrelated events.” You’ve got a lovable but troubled group of black pilots bound and determined to prove themselves to a white army that undervalues them, and…well, that’s it, really. Director Anthony Hemingway constructs the movie like it’s a sequence of episodes in a TV series—which is natural, seeing as his only prior directing experience is in television. It’s as though he shot three separate episodes, each with their own negligible conflicts and subplots, and then slapped them together for a feature. The lack of a cohesive storyline is glaringly obvious, and frankly insulting.
The real story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American pilots in the armed forces, who overcame systematized segregation and logged a nearly perfect escort record, is actually immensely compelling. So much could have, and should have, been done with a film to pay homage to them. What they got instead was made-for-TV drivel that makes a mockery of their legacy. Seriously, if you’re looking for a moving account of the real Red Tails, save your $8.50 and read the Wikipedia page.