To call the George Lucas-produced Red Tails “ineffective” would be an understatement worthy of whatever the understatement-world Oscar equivalent is. Wildly inefficient at ticking any of the boxes necessary to make an entertaining film – never mind the incoherent political and racial subtexts – this is one truly impressive failure.
Apparently 23 years in the making, Lucas waited for technology to catch up before he would be able to hand the reigns to newbie director Anthony Hemingway to tell the story of a squadron of African American fighter pilots who, quite literally, fought for their right to die for their country on the front lines. Focusing less on the individuals (they are only ever referred to as their ‘fighter’ names, such as “Lightning” and “Easy”) and more on the rise of acceptance for the Black community, Lucas and Hemingway make vast, sweeping statements that makes the film, at points, downright racist; a film about racial inequality that stereotypes and ignorantly creates an caricature of an entire race seems careless and even offensive. This is possibly because the 23 years that Lucas waited has had a subversive effect on the rest of production; the themes of the film seem massively outdated.
The argument here is that, rated 12A, the film aimed (at least partially) at kids is trying to keep it comic. But this doesn’t explain the borderline slapstick pratfalls that the film falls into. The first words spoken are, “Germans! Let’s get ‘em!”, and the script continues in the same vein throughout. A particularly cringeworthy example would be the totally unnecessary and hopelessly forced relationship between Lightning and an Italian woman who he falls in love with at first sight. It’s embarrassing to watch, and both the corny, cheese-filled dialogue and terrible plot turns feel like they, as their deviser’s original idea, are a quarter of a century – or more – too late.
And as for the deviser? Lucas’ fingerprints are seen throughout like a hand smudge on newly polished glass. With the story and screenplay being awful as a given, the “technology” that Lucas has been waiting for is utterly wasted. While the essence of the dogfights are reminiscent of those in Star Wars, they are both too polished and too dull to be anything special. Entertainment lasts for just a few minutes, and the dogfights seem to go on repetitively forever. There also seems to be a lot of stock from his old films being shamelessly and detrimentally re-used; planes seem to sound like they are shooting lasers, and the strange Star Wars physics – where shells seem to detonate around (but never on or past) the target – showcases less the effective storytelling by good editing and visual effects and more the actors who blandly fake a warzone in front of a greenscreen.
The story – based however loosely on truth – is weighty, the effects ineffective, the acting atrocious and the dialogue disastrous. The stretch of Lucas’ egotism is clear from the start: the film’s opening battle sequence is its most intense; explosive and chilling, but the entire credits in blood-red Arial with a drop shadow fills the screen with George’s name plastered at least a dozen times. If you can even get through the opening credits voluntarily, good luck for the remaining two hours.