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Originally published Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 12:03 AM

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Movie review

'Red Tails': an inspirational tale of the Tuskegee Airmen

A movie review of "Red Tails," a George Lucas-produced film about the Tuskegee Airmen that wanders from wildly entertaining to schoolroom instructive to one-note flatness.

McClatchy Newspapers

Movie review 2.5 stars

'Red Tails,' with Nate Parker, David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Bryan Cranston. Directed by Anthony Hemingway. 120 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some sequences of war violence. Several theaters.

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Despite stunning aerial scenes and good intentions, the George Lucas-produced "Red Tails" is grounded by clumsy dialogue, a meandering plot and the occasional jarring anachronism.

It's an "inspired by" tale of the Tuskegee Airmen that wanders from wildly entertaining to schoolroom instructive to one-note flatness.

It's not the fault of the cast. Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard may be the best known, but the actors playing the fighter pilots are outstanding. Nate Parker as Captain Marty "Easy" Julian is a restrained trained pilot, while David Oyelowo plays the talented, difficult Joe "Lightning" Little.

In 1941, the black airmen, trained at Tuskegee Institute, broke the racial barrier. The pilots and ground crew were determined to contradict a 1925 Army War College study that concluded blacks were "mentally inferior to the white man."

They proved their worth when the 332nd Fighter Group, with its red-tailed airplanes, was assigned to protect U.S. bomber groups attacking Germany. They brought the vast majority home safely.

In one of the finer scenes in "Red Tails," a group of black pilots walking past the Officers Club in Italy are called back by a white officer. Reluctantly they turn around to face what they believe will be an attack. Instead, the officer wants to thank them — he's a bomber pilot and the Red Tails had brought him and his 10-man crew back alive.

The love story between Little and an Italian girl who he marries begs the question of what would happen to them after the war. Would he be able to take her home to America? Would he come back for her? The film answers the immediate question, but not the larger one.

"Red Tails" also is hampered by the occasional use of anachronisms, like "man up," which jars the audience out of 1944.

Lucas, appearing on Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show," said he wanted to make "an inspirational [movie] for teenage boys. I wanted to show that they had heroes, real American heroes, they're patriots that helped make the country what it is today."

In that, at least, he has succeeded. "Red Tails" will make you want to read the history of the Tuskegee Airmen.

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