While Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan helped define the style of a modern day war film it was his HBO mini-series Band of Brothers that truly captured the World War II experience. The multi-part saga dealt with every nook and cranny of the US military's involvement in the war from large scale battles to intimate character details. The new movie Red Tails developed and produced by Spielberg's Indiana Jones collaborator and Star Wars mastermind George Lucas attempts to cover the same ground for the sprawling tale of the Tuskegee Airmen—albeit in a two hour compressed form. The result is a messy handling of a powerful story of heroism. The good intentions make it on to the screen...but the drama never gets off the runway.
Red Tails assembles a talented cast of young actors to portray the brave men of the 332nd Fighter Group a faction of the Tuskegee Airmen. The ensemble is reduced to a jumble of simplistic one-note characterizations: Easy (Nate Parker) the do-gooder with a dark past; Lightning (David Oyelowo) the suave rebel who never listens to orders; Junior (Tristan Wilds) the fresh-faced newbie ready for a good fight; and the rest a nameless group of underwritten yes men all with just enough backstory to make you interested but never satisfied. Thankfully with the little material they have to work with the gentlemen excel. Rapper-turned-actor Ne-Yo is a standout as the quick-witted Smokey overshadowing vets Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. (who spends most of the movie chomping on a corn cob pipe and grinning).
With the plethora of characters comes too many plot threads and Red Tails stuffs its runtime with everything from epic flyboy dog fights romantic interludes (Lightning finds himself infatuated with a local Italian woman) office politics alcoholism and even a POW camp escape. If there was a true lead character the movie may have succeeded in stringing the events together in a coherent narrative but instead Red Tails is choppy and uneven. The aerial battles for all their CG special effects nastiness are incredibly exhilarating but when the movie's not tackling the intensity of a battle (which it does often) it comes to a near halt. That mostly comes down to history standing in the way—the crux of the story focuses on how segregation caused the military's higher ups to avoid utilizing the Red Tails in true battle. Meaning there's a lot of talk on how the team should be fighting as opposed to actually doing it.Director Anthony Hemingway tries to do this important historical milestone justice but the execution flies too low even under made-for-TV movie standards. Red Tails is a dull history lesson occasionally spruced up with Lucas' eye for action. The charisma of the the main set of actors goes a long way in keeping the film tolerable but they can't fill the gaping hole where the emotional hook belongs. This is a movie about heroes yet not once are the filmmakers able to pull off a moment that feels remotely brave. Which is unfortunate—as it's a story of the utmost importance.
Hollywood is expecting Warner Bros. and Castle Rock Entertainment's opening of "The Green Mile" to walk off with the most box office green this weekend.
The R-rated drama, written and directed by Frank Darabont and starring Tom Hanks, kicks off at more than 2,850 theaters.
"'Toy Story ,' if it's down in the neighborhood of 35-40%, is $16-18 million. And I think 'Green Mile' beats that based on the tracking. They're sitting there with an 18% first choice right now," one studio executive said earlier this week."
"It is high," he said of the tracking results. "Although I understand the reviews are not very good, with Tom Hanks (starring), that's $20 million-plus."
While a $20 million-plus opening is certainly very attractive, it's not spectacular. One of the factors working against a bigger first weekend for the adult appeal "Green" is that adults are busy with shopping and other things in the post-Thanksgiving weeks.
"Women are not so available (this weekend) with Christmas shopping and parties and all that," the executive observed. "But it is Tom Hanks. If anything keeps it from getting to $20 million, it's exactly that factor -- the time of the year. Last year, 'You've Got Mail' opened to something like $18 million ($18.4 million via Warner Bros. the weekend of Dec. 18-20). But you probably have more male interest in 'Green Mile' than there was in 'You've Got Mail,' which was more of a chick flick."
On the other hand, he added, "If 'Toy Story' is down only 28%, that's $20 million, too. But my gut feeling is 'Green Mile' probably edges it out, and then 'Toy Story' is somewhere around $18 million."
The Buena Vista/Disney and Pixar G-rated computer-animated blockbuster "Toy Story 2" is heading for $250 million to $300 million in domestic theaters. Directed by John Lasseter, "Toy 2" features the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, Wayne Knight, Laurie Metcalf, Estelle Harris and R. Lee Ermey.
Third place this weekend should go to Buena Vista/Touchstone's opening of its R-rated youth-appeal comedy "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" at about 2,000 theaters.
"'Deuce Bigalow' has actually got a 12% first choice at this point," the executive said. "I think that's (a gross) somewhere in the low-to-mid-teens. I understand it's a pretty rough R, but I don't think that will keep teen-age and young-adult audiences from coming to see it." Directed by Mike Mitchell, it stars "Saturday Night Live" alumnus Rob Schneider.
MGM's "The World Is Not Enough" should wind up in fourth place with around $7 million. The PG-13-rated "World," the 19th in MGM's James Bond series, is directed by Michael Apted and stars Pierce Brosnan in his third performance as 007.
There could be a close race for fifth place. Both Universal and Beacon Pictures' R-rated action epic "End of Days" and Paramount's R-rated "Sleepy Hollow" could wind up grossing around $6 million this weekend.
Directed by Peter Hyams, "End of Days" is a supernatural thriller pitting Arnold Schwarzenegger against Satan. "Sleepy Hollow," directed by Tim Burton, stars Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci.
Universal's R-rated thriller "The Bone Collector," directed by Phillip Noyce and starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie, which finished fifth last weekend, appears likely to come in seventh this time around.
"'Bone Collector' has been hanging in there respectably, but it was down to $3.2 million last weekend and, I'm assuming, they're going to lose theaters because they're at that point now where they're just going to get crowded out of the 12-plexes and so on. It should be somewhere in the low $2 millions."
Rounding out the chart in eighth, ninth and 10th place will be three of the following four films: Warner Bros.' G-rated animated feature "Pokemon: The First Movie"; Lions Gate's R-rated irreverent comedy "Dogma," directed by Kevin Smith and starring Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Linda Fiorentino; Buena Vista/Touchstone's R-rated drama "The Insider," directed by Michael Mann and starring Al Pacino and Russell Crowe; and USA Films' R-rated comedy-drama "Being John Malkovich," directed by Spike Jonze and starring John Malkovich, John Cusack, Cameron Diaz and Catherine Keener.
On the specialized front, there will be considerable activity this weekend. Miramax's PG-13-rated drama "The Cider House Rules" starts exclusive runs in New York and Los Angeles. A likely Oscar and Golden Globes contender in a number of the major categories, "Cider House" was adapted to the screen by John Irving from his own novel. It was directed by Lasse Hallstrom and stars Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron and Michael Caine.
Miramax's PG-13-rated comedy-drama "Diamonds" opens in New York for a one-week Oscar qualifying run. Directed by John Asher, it stars Kirk Douglas, Dan Aykroyd and Lauren Bacall.
Warner Bros.' R-rated comedy-drama "Liberty Heights," which opened in mid-November in New York, L.A. and Baltimore (where it takes place), goes into limited release. The studio will hold sneak previews of the critically acclaimed "Heights" the following weekend and take it wider Dec. 22. Written and directed by Barry Levinson, the film stars Adrien Brody, Ben Foster, Orlando Jones, Bebe Neuwirth and Joe Mantegna.
MGM's R-rated drama "Miss Julie" starts exclusive runs in New York and L.A. Directed by Mike Figgis, it stars Saffron Burrows, Peter Mullan and Maria Doyle Kennedy.
Fine Line's PG-13-rated drama "Tumbleweeds," playing in New York and L.A. since Nov. 24, goes into limited release in the top 15 markets. Directed by Gavin O'Connor, it stars Janet McTeer and Kimberly J. Brown.
Looking ahead to the weekend of Dec. 17-19, insiders say 20th Century Fox's "Anna and the King" is at this early point only a 5 percent first choice in tracking studies. Buena Vista/Touchstone's "Bicentennial Man" is an 8 percent first choice. Those numbers should increase as their marketing campaigns kick in, especially with television advertising.
The PG-13-rated period drama "Anna" is directed by Andy Tennant and stars Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat. The PG-rated family comedy "Bicentennial Man" is directed by Chris Columbus and stars Robin Williams.
Also arriving in theaters Dec. 17 is Columbia's PG rated fantasy-adventure "Stuart Little." "Of course, 'Stuart Little's' very hard to judge because kids' movies just don't track well," the studio executive said.
On the other hand, Universal's R-rated bio-drama "Man On The Moon," directed by Milos Forman and starring Jim Carrey as late comedian Andy Kaufman, is already said to be showing a 9% first-choice score in tracking studies.
"You've got to figure that's (because of) Carrey," says the executive. Since "Man" doesn't land in theaters until Dec. 22, there's plenty of time for its already good score to increase and translate into a big opening weekend.