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Blu-ray Review: RED TAILS

Joshua Brunsting

May 28th, 2012

Red Tails

What ever happened to George Lucas? That may be one of the most intriguing questions in the film world.

The man behind arguably the biggest and most influential science fiction franchises in the history of cinema, as well as two fantastic indie films (THX 1138 and AMERICAN GRAFFITI), very few filmmakers have fallen further from grace over the span of their careers. The man has run his legacy into the ground with what seems to be glee, giving us three dreadfully dull STAR WARS prequels, and some much talked about changes to his original three films, with each new home video release. And now, add on the film RED TAILS to that legacy.

RED TAILS, produced by Lucas (a film he's been trying to get off the ground for a good 20 years), follows the story of the Tuskegee Airmen. A group of African American fighter pilots, their will to fight earned them not only respect, but a place in the US Air Force as something more than just escorts for the bigger cargo planes. Taking place in 1944, our pilots are finally given a shot, and they absolutely knock it out of the park, if not ultimately without a casualty or two.

It’s just too damn bad that caring about these men is nearly impossible, given the lifeless direction from Anthony Hemingway.

Visually, the film is completely dull. Hemingway, a TV director (including really solid work on Fringe and Community), is far out of his league here.  The dog fights are anticlimactic and lackluster, and the effects work, particularly when dealing with things like explosions (of which there are many), are SyFy Network level bad. The direction doesn't feel assured, or inspired in any way shape or form simply striving for the most broad and faux-nostalgic look at this era.

The film’s primary issue is the sloppiness with which the entirety of it feels put together. The film suffered from a collection of reshoots with Lucas taking over the reins while also bringing in a new writer to do some re-writes, giving the overall tone of the film a schizophrenic feel. From the odd alcoholism subplot bursting out of nowhere in the film's final act, to the occasionally comedic beats that the film offers up, this blending of tone does the film a great disservice. Instead of being solely about these men or solely about the impact that they had on the military and the world in general, the viewer is privy to a film that has no idea what it wants to be.

The performances are easily the film’s strongest aspect. Cuba Gooding Jr. isn’t brilliant, but he’s genuinely charming here, as is Terrence Howard as the two higher ups in this entire operation. Bryan Cranston is wasted as your typical racist-in-the-way general, but the cast is deep, ranging from the likes of Nate Parker, David Oyelowo and Elijah Kelley, all the way to names like Ne-Yo and Method Man, each of who give a fine series of performances.

As far as a release goes, the Blu-ray is fine, if a tad underwhelming. Like the film, the entire release feels lazily put together and uninspired. The audio is fantastic, but the odd effects work really fails here in HD. There are a few supplements on here, most of which are nothing more than your standard EPK, making-of pieces. There is a really great look into the lives of the actual Tuskegee Airmen, itself enough of a story that a far better film should be made in honor of. Lucas even gets his own three minute spot here, furthering the stance that this film is a passion project for the producer, only to have that passion negatively effect the very production of the film.

Overall, the film is charming enough for the viewer to stand the two hour run time, but frankly, it’s one of the most forgettable two hours that a human being could live through. For an action film to be lifeless and lacking in anything remotely thrilling, there may be no worse a sin.

Grade - D+

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