I think "Radio" was the final nail in his "take me seriously" coffin, but Cuba Gooding Jr. used to be in decent films. "Jerry McGuire," "As Good As It Gets," even stupid stuff like "Outbreak" was far better fare than what he started doing in the 2000's, but I think it was right around "Pearl Harbor" when he lost his dignity. Leave it to Michael Bay to make someone's career tank.
The point I'm getting to is that there is a bit of irony going on with today's movie, "Red Tails." The irony is that this is a movie about the Tuskegee Airmen, who were a group of black fighter pilots that held one of the most prestigious records in World War II. Cuba Gooding Jr. is in this film along with Terrence Howard, another actor far past the point of being cared about. But their washed up status isn't what is ironic. What is ironic is that for Cuba, this is familiar territory.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you a good movie.
"The Tuskegee Airmen" is a great flick. It was a 1995 made for TV movie starring Cuba and pre-"Matrix" Laurence Fishburne. I remember watching the crap out of it when I was a kid going through my "fighter planes are awesome" phase, which to be fair I've never completely grown out of. I love fighter planes, and a good movie featuring fighter pilots doing their thing is a guaranteed great time for me. So "Red Tails" is looking promising!
Too bad comparing "The Tuskegee Airmen" to "Red Tails" is like comparing having a nice Jack Daniels and Coke on the rocks on a warm spring night to having a dog turd floating in a dixie cup shoved down your throat with a funnel whilst being chained to the ground in the desert in the middle of July.
This movie was abysmal.
"Red Tails" is like a perfect storm of bad. It is cast with middling to bad actors, the script is a mess, the action, for a pretty as it is, is boring, and for a movie that is two hours long, it feels like about 70% of the film was cut with the spastic, whiplash inducing edits and abrupt endings of scenes. But more than anything else that is infuriating about "Red Tails," and there's a lot, this has got to be the worst example I've ever seen of unforgivably bad dialogue.
There is no scene during the entirety of "Red Tails" that doesn't feature some corny, overly scripted, exposition heavy, completely unrealistic, soul crushing, over-the-top, horribly delivered terrible line that would be the stuff of legendary mockery in any other film. And it's like every single line with these mugging jackasses. If you're having trouble contemplating the horrors of what I'm talking about, think back on some of the worst lines you've ever heard. I'll get you started:
"A barrel roll. That's a good trick!"
"Are you an angel?"
"Hold me like you did by that lake on Naboo."
"I don't like sand. It's coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. Not like here. Here everything is soft and smooth."
"Anakin, you're breaking my heart!"
(Huh. Was there a pattern going on there?)
It's a showstopper like that every other line. It's really astounding how utterly, completely, shockingly BAD the words spewing from these actor's mouths are. And I realize looking back on it that the dialogue is the kind of stuff you'd hear in a video game. It's not hard to imagine having a controller in your hand, frantically pressing the "A" button in an attempt to skip a cutscene when lines like "The sky is blue, and my guns are hot!" are spewing from the actor's mouths.
There was a point in this film that I was trying to give credit to the actors and say that it wasn't their fault, and nobody could have delivered those lines well...but I lost hope before the end. I'm just going to come out and say it - These actors are terrible. All of them. And I was really trying to cut them some slack. But it was nails on a chalkboard BAD all around.
The final indignity came during the climax of the movie, during the biggest mission of the pilot's careers, deep into Germany. In what was at first shaping up to be a heartbreaking moment (had the rest of the movie been an effective lead in, anyways), Lightning, the main character Easy's best friend, is shot up as he saves Easy's life and takes out the anonymous German ace who functions as a kind of villain in the lamest way possible. As he spirals out of control, dying as he says goodbye to his friend and wife, the beginnings of an emotional payoff seem to be occurring.
Then he crashes into a fiery ball as Easy, flying overhead, in his anguish over his best friend's death exclaims "DAMN you, Lightning!" with the same kind of intensity he would have had if Lightning had borrowed a pair of Easy's underwear and not washed them before giving them back.
Now, it's a stretch, a REAL stretch, but I could actually see that line working if a more talented actor had attempted it. Maybe Morgan Freeman. MAYBE. Even he might have had trouble with that one. But I can also imagine Morgan saying "Now, isn't that kind of a silly line? Why would I curse him? That makes no sense in context. Wouldn't I save the anger till later? I would imagine Easy would just be sad at that moment."
"Meh. I'm bummed. I guess."
Oh and by the way - that important mission deep into Germany which would basically validate the black pilots and help turn the tide of war? Dropped after Lightning's death. Apparently stuff like the mission (see also: what he died for) isn't really important. "Red Tails" just jumps straight from that to them landing saying "Gee, good thing the mission was successful. But Lightning didn't make it!"
Not like seeing the successful outcome of the mission would be any kind of emotional catharsis at all.
That brings us to the rest of the problems. On top of everything else, the editing and pacing in this film is a joke. There's not a single scene that flows into the next one organically. Scenes just abruptly end with the grace of a sledgehammer to the balls. Not only that, but this film desperately needed another pass in the editing room to trim about 20 minutes off, mostly by eliminating two exceedingly stupid and useless subplots.
The first is a romance between Lightning and an Italian girl that basically has Lightning come off as a stalker, and the other is a prison break with another character that plays out like if you condensed "The Great Escape" into 2 minutes. Because it's totally viable to build up effective tension in that amount of time. It's so laughably stupid and out of place that it stuns me that anyone thought it was a good idea. These plot threads go absolutely nowhere, but keep popping up to throw an anchor down on any momentum the plot may have gathered by a fluke accident.
I can't really say much more than that. It's unbelievable how badly a good story like this was botched, especially when it's been done before to much greater effect. "Red Tails" is a joke, and George Lucas should once again be ashamed of himself.
Did I mention he produced it? You know, I hate to jump on bandwagons...but George is really making it hard to not hate him. Between him and Spielberg I'm not going to have any childhood favorites left to be a fan of soon.
Look at him. He knows he should be ashamed.
THE BOTTOM LINE - "Red Tails" is making my list of Worst of 2012. There's no possible way that it's not. I pray it's not. If I have to watch 10 worse movies this year, I might kill myself. "Red Tails" is pain to the point of unwatchability. And it had the gall to feature the awesome Bryan Cranston. For shame.