Stuck in production hell since the late '80s due to what George Lucas characterized as Hollywood's reluctance to push a mainstream release with an all-black cast, the producer's long-suffering salute to the Tuskegee Airmen is an important movie. But that doesn't mean it's a good one.
The Airmen, contained within the 332d Fighter Group, fought systemic racism throughout World War II: Conceived as a psuedosocial "experiment," their wings were clipped in the European Theatre by military higher-ups who perceived black pilots as inferior, to say nothing of the hatred spread by peers in uniform. It's a complex and undertold story, but director Anthony Hemingway constructs these obstacles as cartoonish, low-standing hurdles. A few brief, combative meetings with the brass result in Col. A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard) landing an elusive mission for his flyers. A few successful bomber escorts spin into deeply bigoted white soldiers accepting Airmen as equals, slapping backs and buying drinks in a segregated officers' club. A few downed Nazi planes translate to a jingoistic boost in morale within men done no favors by the nation they're risking their lives to defend ("Watch out Hitler, here we come!").
Thrilling, zig-zagging dogfights aside, Red Tails is a surprisingly quiet movie, dedicating much of its time to the pilots' personal woes — the daddy issue-addled drinking of Easy (Nate Parker), the rebellious blood pumping through ace Lightning (David Oyelowo), the inferiority issues saddling Junior (Tristan Wilds). Though it aims for sincerity, much of the dialogue has a stiff, table-reading sound; you'd expect more salt in a script co-penned by outspoken Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder. The fact that Red Tails made it to the big screen is cause for tremendous applause, but to overvalue the end product based on this accomplishment alone would be patronizing and dishonest.