Movie Reviews: Red Tails and Haywire

Red Tails directed by Anthony Hemingway

The conventional wisdom is that Red Tails is the worst movie of the year. I think that’s being unkind….to the Gregorian Calendar. No mere civilization-spanning system of time measurement could possibly be big enough to handle the monumental epic awfulness of this piece of cinematic dreck.

Making fun of George Lucas’s skills as a filmmaker these days is about as easy as stealing candy from a baby, or even as easy as stealing candy from an adult with a baby’s head (all due apologies to Newt Gingrich). And so I wanted to explain exactly WHY this movie isn’t just bad, but should actually be arrested and tried at the Hague for crimes against humanity.

The Script:

Almost everything that’s wrong with this thing can be found in the script, although to call it a script would be like calling Rick Santorum a rational, compassionate human being.  First of all, there’s no plot, which is a bit of a “must-have” for me. Oh, there’s a group of black WW2 fighter pilots who go on missions….but that’s not a plot. That’s a premise. That’s what gets you in the door, but that shouldn’t be the whole story. In the case of Red Tails, it is. The pilots go on a mission. And then another. And then another. And then the movie is over. There’s no real highs, since the pilots scream and yell almost every time that something happens, and there’s no real lows since Terence Howard scowls with a trembling lip the rest of the time. If the actors don’t know how to react to the farce that they’re reading, how are we supposed to?

The Dialogue:

Cuba Gooding, about 4 minutes before calling his agent to thank him for getting him a gig in Red Tails

Technically dialogue is part of script, but in this case the dialogue is so horrendous that it really deserves its own category. I’m more than a little saddened that the genius who created The Boondocks had a hand in “writing” this, but I’m convinced that Lucas just paid Aaron McGruder to allow his name to be attached. I just can’t see the man who created Huey Freeman to be behind these hackneyed bon mots:

“From the last plane, to the last bullet, to the last-minute, to the last man, we fight “, or, “You get us the mission, we’ll light up the board” or, “The only respect I have is for the uniform.”

Give me strength.

Let me clarify. I have no problem with cliches in filmmaking. There’s a reason why we have cliches, and why we have stereotypes. There is something so satisfyingly familiar about going to a great sports or action movie where you know EXACTLY what’s going to happen. Sometimes it’s not the destination, it’s the ride. But in the case of Red Tails, George Lucas seems committed to actually tossing you off the roller coaster in mid-trip.

Worst of all, Lucas and Anthony Hemingway seemed to think that they were filming a radio play. When someone fires a gun, he says, “I’m shooting a gun!” and when someone takes a drink, he says ‘Man, I need a drink’, and when someone says ‘I really want to shoot Cuba Gooding Jr in the face”, they d…..actually, that’s just wishful thinking on my part. The whole reason why we have movie cameras, is so that we can SEE what’s happening. If you TELL us what’s happening at the same time, it kind of defeats the purpose of making a movie in the first place.

The Acting, and the Characters:

It’s not really fair to criticize the actors too much here, as being expected to polish up this rotting turd would be beyond the skills of even the finest thespians, much less the man who brought you Daddy Day Camp. Gooding is baldly terrible in this, but he almost seems glad to have finally found a movie that he’s not the worst part of. He chews up every scene as feverishly as he does the pipe that accompanies him throughout.

Brian Cranston, about 4 minutes before firing his agent for getting him a gig in Red Tails.

I wouldn’t label his performance as a disappointment though, as it’s hard to be disappointed in someone you never had any confidence in the first place. But Terence Howard? He’s a different story, and it’s sad to see someone who once showed so much promise relegated to trembling and shaking like a vibrating bed at a Motel 6. There are other actors in the film of course (namely half the cast of the Wire), but please don’t judge them too harshly. Like another man who had to undergo a terrible experience once said, “Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do”.

George Lucas said in the promotional build-up to this that no studio would pay for a big budget action movie built around a black cast, and acted as if he had the next District 9 or Reservoir Dogs under his hat. He didn’t. In fact, we’ve discovered that he didn’t have a hat at all. It’s been easy to apologize for Lucas, as he is the man who brought so many of us so many of our fondest childhood moments. But that Lucas is long gone now, and in his place is a sad, shell of a has-been who has no business ever being near a film camera again.

Rating:

To rate this film would be like asking that girl whose bungee cord broke to rate her experience on Trip Advisor.

Haywire directed by Steven Soderbergh.

Steven Soderbergh said that with Haywire, he wanted to make a Pam Grier movie as directed by Alfred Hitchock. It’s a lofty goal, and one that I desperately wish he had been able to pull off.

In this post-Tarantino age, we have an idealized vision of what a B movie is. Nowadays, the B movie has become a hyper-stylized, over the top arthouse conceit. But back in the day? Back in the day the idea of a B movie playing to arthouse audiences would be laughed at. And to his credit, it’s the un-ironic, grimy take on the B movie that Soderbergh decided to make here.

Haywire stars Gina Carano, a charismatic newbie who is apparently  a big star in the world of something called “mixed martial-arts”. Apparently that exists. In short, she can beat you up. Yes, even you. In Haywire, she plays a mercenary, who eventually gets hunted down by the very firm that once hired her. It’s a classic action chase film, and one that doesn’t disappoint IF you don’t walk in the door expecting Soderbergh to ply his art house charms on this fairly generic actioner. In short, it’s JUST a moderately well-done,  realistic action movie that reminded me of some of Steve McQueens stronger films. But I wanted more. I wanted something hyper-stylized, with a script as smart as the one that Soderbergh wrote for Contagion last year. But that’s not this film.

What this film is, is about watching an extremely talented human being pounding the pulp out of other human beings. Gina Cerano will never be chosen to be in Woody Allen’s newest Parisian romp, but as a martial artist she’s a goddamn poet. Her fight scenes are sporadic, and  sadly short,  but they’re absolutely brilliant, and they’re what bumps up this film from a decent action movie to a good one.

Rating: B

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