Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

3.5/4

Starring: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Christopher Abbott, Billy Bob Thornton, Alfred Molina

Rated R for Pervasive Language, Some Sexual Content, Drug Use and Violent War Images

With a film produced by "SNL" heavies like Tina Fey and Lorne Michaels and starring Fey herself, you'd think that "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" would be a lowest-common-denominator comedy straight out of one of the sketches on the overrated show.  You'd be wrong.  Although Fey's new starring vehicle has its share of laugh-out-loud moments, it takes things more seriously than you'd imagine.

Kim Baker (Fey) is a copy writer at a news station who gets the chance of a lifetime: covering the war in Afghanistan as a reporter.  Of course, that means leaving her boyfriend behind, but he encourages her to go.  When she arrives, she finds herself out of her element and way in over her head.  But she's smart, savvy, and a quick learner.  She knows how to get sources and get good stories.  She makes friends with a hotshot reporter and falls in love.  The problem is that by the time she gets acclimated and finds her groove, people are losing interest in what's going on in this country (Iraq and Palestine are getting all the airtime), and she has to fight to get her stories on the air.

"Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" covers a lot of ground.  The process of reporting, ethics between journalists, culture assimilation, and the responsibility of reporters to their stories and the people they interview.  And that's in addition to the plot-related stuff, which is considerable as well.  Fortunately, Fey and Michaels hired directing duo Glenn Ficarra and John Requa to helm the picture, and they know better than anyone how to balance multiple plot threads and themes with ease.  It's not as strong as "Crazy, Stupid, Love" ("Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" occasionally loses focus), but that does little to hamper the film's effective moments, which are considerable.

Anyone who has seen Tina Fey in just about anything knows that she can be very funny.  However, here Fey is attempting to inhabit a character, rather than fire off jokes and reaction shots.  She's effective, but not stand-out.  Fey certainly isn't bad, but I got the sense that the film would have been stronger with a more accomplished dramatic actress in the lead role.  Her co-stars, including it-girl Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton outshine her, but she can at least hold her own.  Alfred Molina is quite funny as an Afghani diplomat, even though someone from the Middle East should have played the role.  Also worth mentioning is Evan Jonigkeit, who plays a soldier that has a huge impact on Kim.  I won't say more about him except to say that he's very good (good enough that I wished he had more screen time).

Like many films, "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" has been poorly marketed.  Those expecting a razor-sharp black comedy are going to be confused.  I doubt they'll be disappointed.

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