'Red Tails' soars with entertainment but lacks meaning

The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of African-American fighter pilots who were trained despite the racism entrenched in the U.S. armed services at the time, were deployed in action, and achieved fame and many decorations for their skills against German pilots, which included engaging and shooting down Messerschmitt Me 262s, the first jet fighters. So successful were they at providing escort for American bombers that the white bomber pilots requested them – contradicting a "study" at the time that claimed "Negroes lack the intelligence to operate heavy machinery."

The story of the Tuskegee Airmen has been told before, in a 1995 HBO movie that stuck close to the facts and included much material about the training of the airmen in the racist South of the 1940s. That film represented the first time the fliers became widely known to the American public.

Now George Lucas has personally financed a big-budget mainstream action movie about the Airmen in the hope of reaching a larger audience. He has had Red Tails, directed by Anthony Hemingway, under development for 23 years, and credit is due for his perseverance. The emphasis here is on "action," and this is not so much a social or historical document as a war thriller. A great deal of the film is devoted to aerial dogfights, with POV shots of the pursuit of enemy fighters. The combat dialogue comes down to many close-ups of pilots in flight masks, barking brief words of command. The dramatic scenes on the ground in Europe don't have much substance, although there are effective scenes showing bureaucratic infighting at the top of the Air Corps' chain of command. Full review

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