I understand what 'Red Tails' is trying to do – raise awareness of the Tuskegee Airmen – but it sure doesn't do it well. Instead, it's melodramatic, cheesy, stereotypical, and mind-numbing.
When World War II began, military officials believed African American pilots were physically and mentally incapable of winning dog fights, so their abilities were put to the test in an operation known as the Tuskegee Experiment. African American fighter pilots were grouped together and sent off on low altitude watchdog missions. If they noticed Axis powers infringing on their territory in trains and trucks, they were ordered to blow them up. If this team did well, there was the possibility that they'd some day be sent on dog fighting missions – but that was never the intention of the racist leader (played by Bryan Cranston in the film) who approved the experiment.
When the Tuskegee Airmen proved to be a valuable asset to the air force, they were finally sent on missions protecting bombers en route to their targets. The results were better than those of white fighter pilots and the Tuskegee Airmen became known as the fighter pilots with red-tailed jets – or "Red Tails."
As cool as this story sounds, the execution of bringing it to life in 'Red Tails' is dreadful. Here's how the movie spells out the events. White fighter pilots are cocky and arrogant, leaving behind the bombing detail just to blow more Nazi's out of the sky in dogfights. This is just one of the reasons that the African American pilots are better. We're made to not like the white pilots because they don't follow initiative – but then again, neither does our small group of African American pilot characters. One of them is a wildcard, always breaking orders and doing insane stunts. In fact, they portray this character and his breaking of orders as the reason why the Tuskegee Airmen earned that first bombing run. While accompanying a bombing detail, the wildcard character notices a Nazi airstrip. What does he do? He ditches the convoy to blow up the base and as many planes as possible. Doesn't this go against everything we're supposed to learn about the Tuskegee Airmen's integrity? Yes. Isn't this action exactly the same as the white pilots who ditch the convoy in favor of destruction and glory? You bet.
The entire film is not only full of contradictions like this, but it's loaded with fluff. As if the actual real-life story wasn't good enough, a fictional subplot large enough to be a movie of its own is written in. The wildcard falls in love with an Italian woman and we get a love story even sappier than the one in 'Pearl Harbor' – and that's saying a lot.
Another odd thing about our "heroes" is how much they enjoy killing. All they want to do is kill Nazis. They feel no remorse whatsoever – even if they kill the non-threatening ones. In the opening scene, we watch as they blow up an unmarked truck that one of them believes to be a Nazi artillery vehicle. We're never told whether it was or wasn't carrying munitions. We watch the truck go up in a ball of flames, the driver and passenger never fleeing from the wreckage. The characters don't care about their deaths, so I imagine the filmmakers don't think we will either.
The only thing that 'Red Tails' could have done to make it any worse is cast Tracy Morgan as one of the leads. Each of the actors – well-known or not – either mails in his performance or gives one comparable to a Syfy movie. The cover art only credits Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard, neither of which play leading roles. Both are minor supporting actors. The bad dialog sounds like it was pulled right out of a 'Star Wars' script. "Red Leader, this is Red Five." "Red Four is a-go." They even include "woo-hoos" and one-liners after shooting down enemy forces. In fact, the look of the film is exactly like that of 'The Phantom Menace.' The dogfights look more like they belong in 'Star Wars' than WWII.
'Red Tails' is so bad that it makes 'Pearl Harbor' look like 'Private Ryan.' While the real story deserves to be told, the movie does not deserve to be seen. If I was one of the Tuskegee Airmen, I'd be disappointed by 'Red Tails.'
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Fox has placed this Lucasfilm title on a Region A BD-50 in a flimsy two-disc eco-friendly Elite blue keepcase. The second disc is a DVD copy of the film. The slipcase slides vertically into a matted and embossed cardboard keepcase. Aside from a Fox vanity reel and an FBI warning, nothing plays before the main menu.
It's always an odd feeling when terrible movies get perfect video transfers. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode of 'Red Tails' is one of those.
The beautiful colorization of this transfer is made evident during the Fox vanity reel that opens the movie. The blues during this shot are wildly vivid. When the movie opens smack-dab in the middle of a dogfight, the vibrant colors carry throughout. The reds – especially those coloring the words of the opening credits – are bold and alive, as are the yellows of fiery explosions. This is a constant that's only made better by being paired up with consistent contrast, deep black levels and great shadow delineation.
The second thing to stand out is the sharpness. 'Red Tails' is the best example that I have seen to date of perfect clarity. Not only are the foreground items detailed and textured, but the distant backgrounds – like CG forests hundreds of feet below – carry this same amount of detail.
The combination of all of these great effects makes the image carry a high amount of depth. 'Red Tails' is absolute video perfection.
The disc also features a perfect 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix. As terrible as the opening scoring may be, as it begins playing you can't help but notice how full and well-spread it sounds. Bass is strong and ever-present.
Voices are clear and crisp. Lines may become lost due to the accents, but they're never dropped due to bad mixing levels.
With half of the movie taking place during action-packed aerial dogfight sequences, there are countless examples of fantastic effects mixing. All channels, including the rears, are always active with effects. Each dogfight constantly features seamless imaging.
The only thing that could have made this mix better was if it had received the 7.1 treatment.
At first glance, it appears that both the DVD and Blu-ray share one special feature – 'Double Victory: The Tuskegee Airmen at War' – but the DVD only features highlights of this 66-minute documentary, so I feel that it belongs along the list of HD bonus features.
The real story of the historical Tuskegee Airmen is just about as amazing as it gets - but 'Red Tails' isn't their story. No, it's contrived and dull. Just like the 'Star Wars' prequels, George Lucas having his hand in every part of this potentially fantastic story has ruined it. The result is popcorn fluff – but not the good kind (hence why it wasn't released during the summer). The true story behind 'Red Tails' is botched here. Even with its perfect audio and video transfers, it's still not worth owning. The only thing truly worth watching here is the HD bonus feature documentary that tells the real story. Even the other EPK features are throw-aways. While 'Red Tails' tries to teach a historical lesson about equality, the only knowledge I walked away with is to never trust anything that George Lucas has touched.