Frank Anderson is the head movie writer at TheRenaissanceFan.com
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot does not know what it wants to be. At different times the film seems to be a “fish-out-of-water” comedy, a M*A*S*H*-like satire of the preposterousness of war, a workplace rom-com, and a breezy adventure story. It tackles issues as varied as the attitude toward women in the Muslim world and in the U.S. Military, journalists’ responsibility to their subjects, identity crisis, adrenaline addiction, and Americans’ growing disinterest in the war in Afghanistan. As with so many “jack-of–all-trades”, it is a master of none. This is a surprise and a disappointment as Whiskey Tango Foxtrot reunites star Tina Fey with her longtime 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt collaborator, screenwriter Robert Carlock. If you go to this movie hoping to see “Liz Lemon in Kabul”, well, you’ll get some of that but not enough.
Carlock’s script is adapted from Kim Barker’s memoir The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But there is no confusing Fey’s character, journalist Baker (name changed from Barker), for anything but the “Tina Fey type”, and at times, that old Liz Lemon magic is there on the screen, but not enough. Carlock and Fey, with directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, never let Whiskey Tango Foxtrot get as silly as Fey and Carlock’s previous collaborations, nor do they let it grow the same satirical teeth. Too much time is spent on the burgeoning romance between Baker and photojournalist Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman) and not enough on the actual business of combat journalism. Rather than attacking any of the issues they address, the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot team only offers glimpses and tastes of what they would like to say, and it's woefully unsatisfying.
However, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is not without its pleasures. This is Tina Fey, after all. While the plotline receives too much attention, Fey and Freeman bring a fun, sexy energy to the romance, and the supporting cast is filled with pros. Particularly fun is Billy Bob Thornton as a Marine General who is not unlike one John Francis Donaghy. It’s not a lack of talent that is Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’s failing, it’s a lack of focus and direction. This could have been so much better.
Director: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa/ Writer: Robert Carlock/ Starring: Tina Fey, Martin Freeman, Margot Robbie, Christopher Abbot, Billy Bob Thornton, Alfred Molina/ Rated: R / 111 min.