Anthony Hemingway's action-drama recounts some of the exploits of the Tuskegee Airmen, a wholly African-American U.S. Army Air Corps group that flew in Europe during World War II. (At the time, the Armed Forces were segregated.) The men primarily flew as bomber escorts, but their aerial skills earned them accolades and medals.
Red Tails is an ensemble piece, with the action alternating between the on-ground camaraderie and the derring-do in the sky, with an occasional detour to the halls of the Pentagon. The film has an easy charm and the aerial scenes are well produced and exciting. If you like mostly upbeat war movies, it's all just enough to gloss over the hokey dialogue, stock characters and simplistic plot. As the wise-cracking impulsive air-devil "Lightning," David Oyelowo dominates most of the ensemble scenes. (He's also the subject of a gauzy romantic subplot.) The film's two "big" stars — Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. — have supporting roles as commanding officers.
In a movie with a two-hour run time, I'd have preferred that 20 minutes expended on the tacked-on romance be used for setting up the story. Hemingway just plops us right in the action over Italy, whizzing through the sky. It's an odd oversight for a film-with-a-mission not to have some background on how the Tuskegee program originated, the struggles it faced in the U.S. and the sorts of men recruited for it. Not only would that provide better context for today's viewer, but it would have been an opportunity to develop the characters over the course of the story — from hometown to training to European battle theater — rather than having to resort to stock roles mid-action (the kid, the insecure leader, the joker, the Bible-thumper, etc.)
Red Tails isn't a bad movie so much as a lost opportunity to have made a better movie while still attaining its goal of conveying important, and neglected, history in an entertaining package. I even sat through all the credits hoping there would be some archival footage or photographs of the real Airmen, but alas, all I noted were how many Czechs this movie employed.