A ‘passion project’ for STAR WARS mogul George Lucas, this fact-inspired tale of the pioneering all-black Tuskegee Airmen of WWII and their fight to get into ’the fight,’ comes off like a vanity project. From the opening shot, a tone of gung-ho trivialization and self-defeating CGI overkill bollixes things up. And while the facts behind the fiction are rich enough to hold your attention, you wind up feeling you’ve just seen the African-American experience in WWII as told by Up With People. Maybe we’d buy in if the no-name cast of actors had enough talent to match all the forced enthusiasm. (Star-billed Terrence Howard & Cuba Gooding, Jr. are just window dressing, thespian ‘loss-leaders.’) The handsome lead with the drinking problem is particularly colorless, and his nerveless ‘wingman’ hasn’t the charisma or looks needed to pull off this macho flyboy smoothie. (But a modest tip of the hat to Ne-Yo’s ‘Smokey,’ who manages his entire role as if he had a gumball in his mouth.) Weak as they are, bland as Anthony Hemingway’s direction is, weightless & uninvolving as the air battles are, the real problem undoubtedly stems from Lucas. For all his technical savvy, he’s been culturally clueless for decades, unwilling to acknowledge how those STAR WARS prequels would have fared without the original trilogy to buck them up. This glitzy film is probably more in line with his INDIANA JONES tv spin-off, and just as disposable.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Highlights from the Tuskegee Airmen documentary DOUBLE VICTORY are included as an Extra on this DVD. The full program doesn’t seem to be available, but this 15 minute edit is both moving & exciting in a way the film isn’t.