Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (R)

Building on Admission and This is Where I Leave You, actress Tina Fey returns to her semi-dramatic side with Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, which provides the comedienne with her most challenging role to date.


Based on the memoir by Kim Barker, the feature is a war story with a sense of humor, searching for the idiosyncrasy and contradictions of journalism on the front lines, using Fey’s natural timing to lift heavy material. Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Focus, Crazy, Stupid, Love) don’t always have the firmest grip on storytelling, but they manage to find life in the middle of Hell.

 

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot provides Tina Fey with her most challenging role to date.


Living a boring existence in a New York City newsroom as the Afghanistan War begins, Kim (Tina Fey) is offered a chance to shake up her life with a job opportunity in Kabul, reporting from the front lines.


Leaving behind bland boyfriend Chris (Josh Charles), Kim finds herself overwhelmed with culture shock as she deals with Marine leader Colonel Hollanek (an alert and engaged Billy Bob Thornton) and meets fellow reporter Tanya (Margot Robbie). Getting used to the lay of the land with help from interpreter Fahim (Christopher Abbot), Kim adheres to local customs and dress, while trying to make her mark as a television personality.


As the years pass, Kim becomes addicted to the highs and lows of the gig, taking a lover in Scottish journalist Iain (Martin Freeman) and feeling unusual energy from Prime Minister Sadiq (Alfred Molina), who wants a little more than friendship from the westerner.


Whiskey Tango Foxtrot was adapted for the screen by Robert Carlock (Fey’s partner-in-crime on hit shows 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), who has the unenviable task of transforming Operation Enduring Freedom into a semi-palatable picture—at least more enticing than last year’s dismal Rock the Kasbah.


Whiskey Tango Foxtrot launches with surprising verve, eschewing the darkness of regional politics to focus on Kim’s developing confidence as she buddies up with her crew and takes an initial risk by running into the middle of a firefight to capture the event on camera.


Kim’s antics while trying to get her bearings result in laughs, along with clashes of culture as the reporter works to fit in without submitting to Islamic law. However, the helmers take the surroundings seriously, finding corners of the story to fit in casualties and Taliban threat, while Kim’s relationship with Fahim enjoys a tender stretch, though one forbidden by national rule.


Editing grows sloppier as Whiskey Tango Foxtrot unfolds. There’s more to the story than what ended up on screen, and the gaps are easy to spot—most tied to the developing relationship between Kim and Iain, which takes a drastic turn to help the feature find a suitable conclusion.


It’s a messy picture that bites off more than it can chew, but Fey’s wonderful performance smoothes out most of the abrupt tonal changes, giving Whiskey Tango Foxtrot passable personality and feeling.

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