Before the United States entered World War I in 1917, there were already a small number of American men who had gone to France to fight the Germans. Some of them trained to fly airplanes. These were the first American fighter pilots, and their squadron was called the Lafayette Escadrille. The badly titled Flyboys tells the story of this unit, and it turns out differently enough from the average military heroism yarn to be enjoyable.

Most of the main characters in this film were inspired by real-life members of the Escadrille, which is important to know because their backgrounds seem so impossibly colorful. The Arizona farmboy and ace flier Frank Luke is turned into Blaine Rawlings (James Franco), a failed Texas rancher escaping a warrant for punching the banker who foreclosed on him. The Harvard graduate and millionaire’s son Norman Prince becomes Briggs Lowry (Tyler Labine), a cosseted scion of wealth who’s hoping to find some direction in life and possibly please his dad. Eugene Bullard, a slave’s son who fled America for a country that treated black men as human beings, is reincarnated here as Eugene Skinner (Abdul Salis), a boxer who joins the military to defend his adopted homeland. They all take orders from Capt. Georges Thenault (Jean Reno), the actual name of the commander of the Lafayette Escadrille.

Starring James Franco, Martin Henderson, and Jean Reno. Directed by Tony Bill. Written by Phil Sears, Blake T. Evans, and David S. Ward. Rated PG-13