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Red Tails (12A) Director: Anthony Hemingway Staring: Cuba Gooding Jr, Terrence Howard Rating: ★★★

Cuba plays the race ace

By Gerald McCusker

What’s the story?

It’s 1944 and World War II rages on land, sea and in the air. The US Air Force is engaged daily in violent scraps with the Nazi menace and the airborne battles above Italy and Germany are taking their toll as the Luftwaffe fight for survival in the skies above Europe.

However, bigotry continues to be rife in the US military with African-American pilots kept far from the front line of battle and reduced to menial sentry flights. But, with the US Air Force taking heavy losses, Major Emanuelle Stance (Cuba Gooding Jr) and Colonel AJ Bullard (Terrence Howard) convince the top brass in the Air Force to train a group of black pilots from Tuskegee, Alabama and give them the opportunity to fight for their country.

Facing institutionalised racism on the ground and almost-certain death in the air, fearless fighter pilots Easy (Nate Parker), Lightning (David Oyelowo) and Junior (Tristan Wilds) help in the Allies’ fight to destroy the fascist forces of evil and win the respect of their white colleagues.

 

Any good?

Imagine Top Gun, but set in World War II, and concentrating on the thorny issue of race and racism in the US military, and you’ve got Red Tails in a nutshell.

Produced by the legendary George ‘Star Wars’ Lucas and directed by Anthony Hemingway (who cut his teeth directing episodes of The Wire), Red Tails is an inspirational tale, based on a true story, and it seems to have everything – passion, action and an internal struggle for equality and, ultimately, the freedom of Europe from a raging Nazi horde.

Where Red Tails excels is the beautifully rendered digital special effects that propel the audience into the thick of smoky, flaming, bullet-ridden dog fights that look and feel as volatile as the real thing. When the action is in full swing, it’s hard to tear your eyes away from the screen, but, as soon as the guys land back on terra firma, however, we’re left with a plot that struggles to take flight and take advantage of the serious subject matter.

Pantomime

In fact, when the issues of race and acceptance are unconvincingly swept to one side, we’re really faced with a cheesy pantomime with OTT dialogue and wafer-thin characterisation.

The big players here are the excellent Cuba Gooding Jr and Terrence Howard and, naturally, they shine in their roles as the leaders fighting for the equality, but the rest of the cast really don’t give the proceedings much gravitas with David Oyelowo being the only one to make a notable impression.

Apart from the inclusion of a weak romantic sub-plot, there’s really not much else going for Red Tails other than the wonderfully directed action scenes.

Final word

Although the ‘true’ story at the centre of proceedings could have done with a lot more attention to detail and subtler scripting and performances, if you’re after a simple movie with action that practically lights up the screen, Red Tails should keep you reasonably entertained.

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