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Friday, March 4, 2016

Movie Review: 'Whiskey Tango Foxtrot'

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is pure WTF.

Review by Matt Cummings

For Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, one might look at the title and automatically pick up the 'WTF' reference. But for most of this slow-moving, almost painful to watch dramedy, one might use the same phrase to describe their experience as they try to figure out how they got cajoled into spending good money on a film that doesn't know what it is.

Serving as a producer for powder-puff stories at a NY television station, journalist Kim Baker (Tina Fey) needs a change and soon. A single forty-something with no children, she volunteers to cover the 2004 war in Afghanistan in a desperate effort to get noticed by a studio. Bidding a farewell to her soon-to-be ex-boyfriend (Josh Charles), Baker comes face to face with the war and struggles to steer clear of it. Her desire for the next big story sees Kim and other journalists like Tanya (Margot Robbie) and Iain (Martin Freeman) taking unwise risks that equate to looking for the next high. Drawn in by her desire to tell the real story behind the war, but unable to steer clear of its dangers, Kim must balance between the high risk/reward of her job and the worry that she's becoming consumed by it.

Based on the memoir The Taliban Shuffle, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot tries to make a statement about war, money, sex, and job security, doing none of them particularly well. Blame that on Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who can't get the tone of this thing nailed down: one minute it's hilarious political comedy, the next it's a super serious message about thrill seekers who happen to cover the news. Fey emerges from the wreckage in the best shape, proving she can handle a little dramedy better than she did in 2014's frankly disgusting Admission. There, she played a thoroughly unlikable college recruiter who's just a tad higher up on the food chain in WTF than she was in that mess. We laugh with her through the adventures, but never appreciate her work ethic or empathize with her wish for a more successful life.

The connections to Admission are startling when you expand the circle to include Freeman and Robbie. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot features a slew of unlikable characters whose ulterior motives include partying, screwing (sometimes each other for a story), and in general behaving like frat students in a nation that doesn't trust them. Sadly, we don't really get what WTF is supposed to be, settling for generic cynical and dark without showing us the true shadows. There is a story to be told here about the personal dangers of covering big news, another about the money behind war, and perhaps a trio of others; but the default result is romantic comedy that really isn't very funny. Moreover, the climactic ending where US Marines rescue a journalist - who's again searching for that big high - comes off like a waste of taxpayer dollars that doesn't serve the story one bit.

I will say that Alfred Molina - who plays an overly amorous Afghani Prime Minister - is hilarious throughout, giving Fey a run for her money. He makes Whiskey Tango Foxtrot a bit more bearable. But that isn't saying much when every character (including his) has their intentions broadcast from a mile away. I found myself wondering if some higher-up who saw potential dollar signs instead of critical praise steamrolled this snoozer away from its intended path. It happens in film more often than you think, and in WTF's case it happens early and continually lets us down right when we're ready to give it a chance again.

There's several potentially biting storylines within Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, but Ficarra and Requa just can't draw them out. Fey turns in a great performance, but you'll be so bored to tears to care about her or whether American interests are best served overseas. With so many appealing alternatives out there - including some of the best television drama ever - this one is definitely FUBAR.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is Rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content, drug use and violent war images and has a runtime of 112 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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