Entertainment » Movies

Red Tails

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday May 22, 2012
Red Tails

"Red Tails" dramatizes the historic breakthroughs made by the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II. African American patriots, dismissed in a 1925 Army report as too lazy, awkward, and incompetent to handle complex battle machinery like tanks and planes, find themselves presented with an opportunity to prove the naysayers (including open bigoted Army brass) wrong about their courage and ability.

The movie feels like a checklist of real-life rebuttals to all the long-ago theoretical arguments, based on prejudice rather than fact, about why African Americans should not be integrated into the military. The special feature "Double Victory Highlights" feels much more informative: A 15-minute excerpt from the History Channel's longer documentary, this special feature reveals how African Americans of the day were battling "on two fronts," as one interviewee puts it: Fascism abroad, and racism at home. The excerpt is a focused, potent, and stirring document, unlike the movie itself, which offers a couple of decent action sequences but falls back on character tropes and poorly written dialogue to get its message across. (Make no mistake: This is a "message movie," and transparently so.)

"Double Victory" is all this DVD disc in this combo pack has to offer in the way of special features, though the audio setup also provides Spanish and French language dialogue tracks and English subtitles for the hard of hearing. For more special features you have to have a Blu-ray player; the Blu-ray disc includes several more featurettes, plus commentary tracks.

The paucity of special features on the DVD may be a good marketing ploy to sell Blu-ray players, but it's a shame given how the movie fails on so many levels. A featurette, or even commentary track, addressing George Lucas' long struggle to get the movie made would have grounded the film in present-day reality for the non-Blu-ray enabled viewer.

For either edition, a featurette on the parallels between the eventual racial desegregation of the military and the recent repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" would have gone a long way toward elevating this film's home video release, but that, of course, is hardly something we can expect to see on a commercial product.

That's a shame, because without any acknowledgement of the 21st century's civil rights movement the film remains stuck: It's neither relevant to contemporary culture nor a fitting tribute to the military airmen who shattered racial myths and helped open the door to nominal equality in civilian life. At its best, "Red Tails" is CGI action fluff with a tip of the hat to the virtues of progress; at its worst, it's a preachy mess.

Red Tails

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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