Red Tails / Haywire
by Glenn Lovell
File George Lucas’s latest, “Red Tails,” under Blam! Zap! Ka-POW! comic book history, somewhere between “The Dirty Dozen” and “Inglourious Basterds.” This airborne WW2 pic about segregated Tuskegee Airmen who defy racist white brass and elbow their way into The Big Show escorting Flying Fortresses is pure hokum, a blend of “Star Wars”-like dogfights and stock characters and situations lifted from such Hollywood nuggets as “Twelve O’Clock High” and “Air Force.” As a blood-and-guts reenactment it’s not quite as ridiculous as Michael Bay’s “Pearl Harbor,” but it’s still over-the-top moviemaking splashed with a patina of social relevance.
The year is 1944. The action shifts between an air base in Italy and, for the CG aerial battles, the skies over Berlin and Ploesti. Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. head the 322 Fighter Group, composed of such familiar types as the hotdog ladies’ man (David Oyelowo), the solemn, hard-drinking captain (Nate Parker), the chaw-chewing jokester (Ne-Yo), the Scripture-quoting Deacon (Marcus T. Paulk), the snot-nosed rookie (Tristan Wilds), the mother-hen mechanic (a very good Andre Royo). It falls to Howard to deliver through clenched teeth the embarrassing, modern-sounding speeches; meanwhile, Gooding chews on his pipe sagely and rouses his men to action like a coach at third and goal. Oyelowo’s dare-devil repeatedly disregards orders and breaks formation to strafe trains, battleships ‒ anything with a swastika.
At two hours, “Red Tails” feels overproduced and about 30 minutes too long. Executive producer Lucas and nominal director Anthony Hemingway would have done well to jettison the romance subplot between Oyelowo and local cutie Daniela Ruah, as well as the lame sortie into “Great Escape” territory. These detours slow things down and make us long for the aerial acrobatics, a decent mix of live action, blue screen and digital planes. Lucas, Gooding, et. al., are now on the stump insisting it’s every American’s patriotic duty to see and support this film. Their call to duty feels forced, like Howard’s speeches and the smattering of applause that greeted this film on opening day.
Run, Gina, Run!
You can see it in the British agent’s eyes. He’s not convinced that his latest assignment is on the up-and-up. “What about the girl?” he asks. “Can she cope?” The query brings a big laugh because the scene is played in flashback: We already know the spy’s fate, and it’s not a pretty one. Private operative Mallory Kane, as played by real-life mixed martial arts champ Gina Carano, can not only cope, she can catapult and chop-sock and apply a mean scissor lock that turns her opponent blue from asphyxiation. Extended, nicely choreographed fights in a café, hotel room and on the beach say it all: Kane is as lethal in close-quarters combat as Bruce Lee and Jean-Claude Van Damme were in their prime.
Carano as Kane stars in Steven Soderbergh’s jazzy, ultra-cool “Haywire,” a nuts-and-bolts espionage / payback thriller that makes up in pure adrenaline what it lacks in narrative heft. It’s not up there with the best international action movies (see “District B13” and last year’s “Point Blank,” both from France), but as a made-to-order vehicle for Carano, it’s not too shabby. This is the versatile Soderbergh (besides directing, he hoisted the camera) in his indie cinema verité mode, going for broke on a limited budget, as he did on “The Limey” and “Contagion.”
This may be a B movie, but it packs an A-list ensemble: Ewan McGregor as Kane’s supercilious boss, Michael Douglas as a sleazy CIA chief, Bill Paxton as Mallory’s father, Antonio Banderas as a suspicious Barcelona go-between, and the ubiquitous Michael Fassbender as the aforementioned MI-5 agent who makes the fatal mistake of underestimating a former Marine in a dress. At least McGregor, who sells out Kane during a phony hostage rescue, has a choice. “Surrender now if you want to live,” she tells him in a voice that’s every bit as matter-of-fact as this fun, stripped-down spy thriller.
RED TAILS ✮✮ With Nate Parker, David Oyelowo, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr. Directed by Anthony Hemingway; scripted by John Ridley, Aaron McGruder. 120 min. PG-13 (for profanity, combat violence)
HAYWIRE ✮✮1/2 Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, Michael Fassbender. Directed by Steven Soderbergh; scripted by Lem Dobbs. 93 min. Rated R (for profanity, violence)