Progression in scientific understanding is important because we need a good laugh at what yokels we used to be. When we finally figured out we were on a planet, we thought it was flat. We didn't realize that washing our hands before surgery was important. Women 90 years ago didn't have the benefit of Spanx. And around World War II, people were debating whether or not African-Americans were fit for combat due to "studies" that claimed them to be inherently inferior to whites (along with Jews and Italians). It sounds like science fiction now, but that's the world the Tuskegee airmen lived in. We owe them an enormous amount of gratitude for putting those ill-conceived ideas to rest while protecting our country…and we certainly owe them a better movie than Red Tails.
In between George Lucas' long, sleepless nights figuring out what new things to make Darth Vader say, he was trying to get this film made for 23 years (somehow being usurped by HBO's 1995 version of the same story with Lawrence Fishburne). He had to self-finance it, because according to him, studios didn't want to take a chance on an action movie with an all African-American cast. It seems more likely that they saw what he was considering for a script and passed on the heavy serving of Velveeta cheese.
The passionate performances all come from the fighter pilots, doing the best they can with material that's as three-dimensional as a Girls Gone Wild video. Ne-Yo plays "Smoky" Salem, and acts as a kind of life preserver, buoying up the film with an interesting character choice and an appropriate amount of levity. Of course he has nothing interesting to do besides be the comic relief, but at least around him, guys with snappy nicknames are getting into fights over someone being too much of a daredevil, and someone else having a drinking problem. Don't worry, though--after fighting they always pause, look at each other, and then become friends again. Someone falls in love with an Italian girl, too, so you can check the token love interest off the list. And just to really drive home the point that the military was unfairly segregated, all the white servicemen in the first 110 minutes are complete racist idiots. This movie makes the race relations in The Help look subtle.
Nobody has ever gone to Lucas for an award-winning script, so let's talk effects. Seeing it projected digitally didn't help make the movie look richer--visually, the film didn't feel "old fashioned," as Lucas claimed he wanted the script to be. It felt shiny and moved with the fast action that computers have made possible, so although that made the battle scenes relatively exciting, it felt a little off, like something on the SyFy channel. The team obviously took great pains in the sound effects department too, but the dogfighting scenes are too few and far between to make up for having to sit through lines like "My god, these pilots are African," said by a sneering, scowly faced German bad guy. No matter how many German planes the airmen shot down, I still couldn't manage to feel inspired by this tripe.