Published Jan 19, 2012Since mid-'90s HBO drama The Tuskegee Airmen (which also featured Cuba Gooding Jr.) already covered the subject of the Tuskegee-trained African-American pilots that proved heroic and invaluable during WWII with grace and dignity, this clumsily written visual effects extravaganza is somewhat redundant. It also bears more than a little resemblance to the works of its Executive Producer, George Lucas, sporting the same creaky narrative structure and contrivances, exacerbated by dreadfully corny dialogue and tropes.
Although here, rather than serving thinly veiled political dogma, the mealy-mouthed, heavy-handed discussion is that of dissidence, racial barriers and the familiar moral platitude of overcoming obstacles through strength of character. When not doting on the issue of prejudice ― noting with a nod and a wink, "We prefer Negro," when confronted with the term "coloured" ― the plot focuses on the Italian Campaign of 1944, generating narrative tension from the possibility that the Tuskegee Airmen might be disbanded, having inferior aircrafts and unsuccessful missions.
True, the observation of exaggerated pressures through harsher judgment and oppressive stigma ― a 1925 Army War College study concluded that blacks were mentally inferior to whites ― gives this ho-hum plot, wherein we already know the outcome, a bit of heft, but does it have to be so gallingly twee?
Since every moment of Washington politics with Terrence Howard and fighter pilot exchange with Cuba Gooding Jr. and half the cast of The Wire fizzles with out-dated, borderline propaganda rah-rah spirit, there's an overall sense of watching a black & white movie sans irony. And while there could be some fun in playing off a kitschy, out-dated cinematic format, thwarting the modern morally conscious war film by cartoonishly vilifying Nazis with gleeful aplomb and giving each character a "Gee Willikers!" approach to life, the fully animated air battle sequences modernize things in a pseudo-anachronistic sense.
Indeed, the aerial combat scenes are impressive to behold on the big screen, serving the visceral with maximum ease, but it never gels with the ground sequences, where everyone seems like a caricature from Hairspray. (Fox)