"Red Tails": The Tuskegee Airmen Deserved a Movie That's Not Completely Unwatchable

| Sat Jan. 21, 2012 7:00 AM EST

Photo courtesy of LucasfilmPhoto courtesy of Lucasfilm

Red Tails

Lucasfilm

120 minutes

If you've heard anything about the movie Red Tails in the past few weeks, it likely had something to do with George Lucas venting about systemic racism in Hollywood.

In the month leading up to the film's release, Lucas (who served as executive producer) took his high-profile publicity stops as an opportunity to call out the big-studio aversion to predominantly black casts.

"This has been held up for release since 1942, since it was shot," Lucas joked on an episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on January 9. Then, he started talking bluntly—and sounding more than a little bitter: "It's because it's an all-black movie. There's no major white roles in it at all…I showed it to all of them and they said, 'Noooo. We don't know how to market a move like this.'"

The "all-black movie" is based on the true story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the WWII pilots who were the first black servicemen to fly combat missions for the US Army Air Forces at a time when the military was racially segregated and black Americans were not recognized as full citizens at home.

Here's a rough outline of Red Tails' two-hour running time: Brave black pilots are stationed in Italy in 1944. They battle the institutionalized racism in the army and swiftly debunk decades of bigotry masquerading as science. The Airmen massacre the living snot out of scores of mean-spirited, smug Nazis. They triumph over their own fears and personal flaws, and even win the hearts and minds of some white dudes along the way. And (spoiler alert) in the end, racism loses, the fascists get owned, and the Tuskegee Airmen (or "Red Tails") end up as decorated heroes.

It's a great story, and it certainly doesn't hurt that it was inspired by actual events.

But the film, released in at the frigid movie-dump weeks of January, lives up to neither the compelling history nor the premise. In fact, the movie is devoid of visceral thrill, drained of emotional energy, and head-scratchingly awful throughout.

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