Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 108 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 13+. The film is basically a “Top Gun” knockoff but set after the War on Terror, so there are various in-air chase scenes and combat violence, some cursing and sexist language, a love triangle with some kissing and an implied sex scene (a topless man and woman rolling around in a bed), and another scene where soldiers are stripped down to their underwear, including a woman in bra and underwear.
A knockoff of ‘Top Gun’ has to work a lot harder to supersede its predecessor, and ‘Red Sky’ can’t pull it off. The film is badly written, badly conceived, and badly acted.
By Roxana Hadadi
There are some actors in Hollywood that, no matter their project, always raise the question, “That guy?” So it goes with Cam Gigandet, star of the “Top Gun” knockoff “Red Sky.” Gigandet didn’t amaze as the bad guy in the first “Twilight” film, was forgettable as the love interest in Christina Aguilera’s passion project “Burlesque,” and is never believable here as a fighter pilot trying to reclaim his honor after being disgraced during a combat mission in the war in Iraq. If “Red Sky” is essentially a copycat of “Top Gun,” casting Gigandet as the new Tom Cruise was the first mistake—he doesn’t have nearly enough charisma or likeability to pull this off.
The film from director Mario Van Peebles, who also appears here as the main villain of “Red Sky,” is one of those things that credits five writers but somehow still has a choppy script; stars actors from the ’90s (including Rachel Leigh Cook of high school drama “She’s All That” and Shane West of “A Walk to Remember,” one of the first Nicholas Sparks adaptations) but can’t bank on the nostalgia they produce; and focuses on very specific historical and geographic details but doesn’t even have the attention to get them right. An important scene is set in Tabriz, Iran, for example, but the film’s location titles spell it “Tebriz,” because who needs accuracy? “Red Sky” refuses accuracy at every turn.
The movie focuses on a group of fighter pilots who get into serious trouble during a mission called Operation Rainmaker, when they are sent to destroy what they think is an abandoned chemical plant in Iraq but actually end up killing a fellow American soldier. The pilots, led by the dueling Rodeo (West) and Cobra (Gigandet, of “Priest”), received authentication to go forward with the mission by a mysterious bad guy who they can’t identify, and so they are discharged from the military in disgrace. The tension leads the friction between Rodeo and Cobra to come to a breaking point, and also affects Rodeo’s girlfriend, Karen (Cook), who is dumped by him and was delivering feelings for Cobra anyway. But for seven years, the group scatters.
Until Rodeo goes missing, and his old fellow pilots start wondering if his disappearance has anything to do with that failed mission. So Cobra, who accidentally runs into Karen at an airshow in Russia, enlists her help, now that she’s a fancy investigative journalist who can somehow speak Russian (she was a waitress before, so the career jump in such a short time is one of the film’s “really?” elements). Together they start trying to figure out what happened to Rodeo, discovering that it’s tied to that disastrous Operation Rainmaker from so many years ago.
Were they just the pawn in a geopolitical game led by politicians and oil men who didn’t care who they hurt, as long as they profited? Short answer: Yes. Long answer: There is also a bunch of mumbo jumbo about Kurdish separatists, Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, Iran’s terrorist activities, and the scientific properties of oil, none of which are presented fully accurately and all of which are treated as silly obstacles to the film’s main prerogative: Get Karen and Cobra together! Oh, and reclaim their lost honor as patriots or whatever. That, too.
It’s hard to take “Red Sky” seriously when so much of it is poached from other films, like the uber-masculine nicknames and dueling alpha-male dynamics and even the characters’ facial hair (one character has a mustache that is stolen straight from the Goose-from-“Top Gun” playbook). And if it were a parody, or even a tongue-in-cheek, self-aware film, that might have been more tolerable than what it actually is, which is a C-grade conspiracy film with various scenes of CGI airplanes (the green screens used here are not pretty) and actors running around in their underwear, because if you cast Gigandet in your movie, you have to show him shirtless. Not just once, but as many times as you can get him to do it.
That’s about the only thing about “Red Sky” that feels intentional. Otherwise, it’s all one-note, explosion-heavy action sequences that lack any kind of gravity because they’re so clearly CGI; a manufactured love story between three characters who never seem like real people; and a script about the Middle East that is willfully ignorant of actual details about the actual Middle East. “We were ordered!” insists Gigandet’s character when on trial to defend the failure of Operation Rainmaker, but no one is ordering you to see “Red Sky.” In fact, I’m ordering you not to.
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