During WWII, black pilots trained in Tuskegee, Alabama, were sidelined in the segregated US forces. But Colonel Ballard (Howard) gets them an assignment accompanying bombers on raids in Italy. Led by Major Stance (Gooding), the team includes hot-shot Lightning (Oyelowo), self-doubting Easy (Parker), eager Junior (Wilds) and the even less-defined Smoky (Ne-Yo) and Joker (Kelley). As they square off against their Luftwaffe nemesis (van Riesen), the Tuskegee airmen's distinctive red-tailed planes develop a first-rate reputation that begins to break down racial barriers.
While based on real events, the film is fictionalised with a variety of subplots from romance to prison escape to political lobbying. In other words, the writers turn to melodrama to spice up a story that doesn't need spicing up.
This reduces each man to one or two random characteristics, such as Lightning's romance with a hot Italiana (Ruah) and Easy's guilt-ridden alcoholism. In other words, the film suffers from producer George Lucas' trademark blanding-down (as seen in Star Wars I to III).
That said, the terrific actors make the most of their thin roles. Oyelowo is especially magnetic, generating strong camaraderie with Parker. Meanwhile, Gooding and Howard provide the backbone as leaders who refuse to sit by and watch the war. So it's a shame that the script and direction never allow these characters to emerge as fully formed people, as the filmmakers rely on trite dialog and cliches by the bucketload.
Visually, the film is far too warm and glowing, but it springs to life during the exhilarating dogfights. Not only are they coherent and exciting, but the quality of the digital effects is first-rate. So with eye-catching action and likeable if simplistic characters, the film remains thoroughly entertaining despite the hackneyed side-plots. Oddly, it also feels like it's been harshly edited down from a much longer film, with scenes that have been chopped abruptly. So it might have been better as a TV series.
Run time: 125 mins
In Theaters: Friday 20th January 2012
Box Office USA: $49.9M
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Production compaines: 20th Century Fox, Partnership Pictures, Lucasfilm Ltd.
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 40%
Fresh: 51 Rotten: 76
IMDB: 5.9 / 10
Director: Anthony Hemingway
Producer: Rick McCallum
Screenwriter: John Ridley, Aaron McGruder
Starring: Bryan Cranston as Colonel William Mortamus, David Oyelowo as Joe 'Lightning' Little, Cuba Gooding Jr. as Major Emanuelle Stance, Daniela Ruah as Sofia, Terrence Howard as Col. A.J. Bullard, Andre Royo as Antwan 'Coffee' Coleman, Robert Kazinsky as Chester, Lee Tergesen as Colonel Jack Tomlinson, Matthew Leitch as Lt. David Long
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