Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a comedy/drama that sees Kim Barker (Tina Fey), a down-on-her-luck New York desk jockey, apply to become a frontline war correspondent. It also stars Martin Freeman, Margot Robbie and Billy Bob Thornton.
Tired of her hum-drum existence in the Big Apple, Kim Barker goes out on a limb and jumps at the chance to ship out to Afghanistan and cover the unfolding conflict between the US and the Taliban. Leaving behind her mostly absent boyfriend and her potted plants, Kim soon finds herself scrabbling to keep her head above water in the frightening streets of Kabul - has she made the right decision to leave it all behind?
For a film that stars Tina Fey in the lead, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot isn't particularly funny. That's not to say it's bad; it's just not what I was expecting. Don't get me wrong, it certainly has its moments! There is always going to be something inherently amusing about seeing Martin Freeman drunkenly singing 'Take on Me' in a Kabul strip club at 3am or Fey brandishing her trademark brand of wit while surrounded by shellshocked men in uniform. But don't expect to be clutching your sides with laughter; the humour here is spread thinner than some of Fey's more straight-forward efforts, like Sisters.
I put this down to an odd marketing campaign more than anything else; the trailers gave us the impression that the film was going to poke holes in the War on Terror, like a cross between Zero Dark Thirty and 30 Rock. The truth is, the film actually veers closer to the former than the latter; only slightly though, I'm not suggesting that you'll see Margot Robbie waterboarding someone in this film. I just mean it leans more towards dramedy than straight-up comedy, angling for the same journey of self-discovery that Ben Stiller underwent in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (although this time with less Jose Gonzalez and more A Tribe Called Quest).
Fey actually does a really great job of broadening her range in this film, dipping into a more dramatic side that we haven't seen from her before. Her cheeky smirk still slips some satire into proceedings, but it was refreshing to see something other than Liz Lemon or rowdy SNL Fey for a change. Freeman is a hoot as war photographer Iain (complete with broad Scottish accent) whilst there is much joy to be found is Billy Bob Thornton's Marine colonel, who loves nothing more than barking orders.
Meanwhile, Robbie plays Fey's fellow reporter and sort of rival Tanya; it's not a huge role (the film often forgets about her for large sections at a time), but Robbie makes an impression in the scenes that she does have. It's a different role for Robbie also as Tanya is more take-no-prisoners than the rest of the ensemble; it's a strange fit at first, but it was nice to see a film centre itself around two ambitious female professionals who kick-ass in the field and are good at their jobs (even if it is sometimes to their own detriment).
One character who didn't do it for me was Alfred Molina's eccentric Afghan politician Sadiq. It just felt like his character was there to leer at Fey and make the whole affair slightly cartoonish.
Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (who also worked behind the camera on Focus last year) struggle to find a groove as the tone shifts all over the place; one minute we're laughing along as Kim struggles to interview monotone Marines, the next we're witnessing a roadside IED explosion that kills a supporting character and puts another in hospital. When it works though, it really works; Fey and Freeman share a unique chemistry and Kim's character arc gracefully travels from A to C through B across several years in a way that feels like we've seen her grow and change. The film is undoubtedly disjointed, but in a way that ramshackle structure suits the film and its setting.
The Verdict: 7.5/10
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is strange film; it's a lot darker and more seriously than I expected, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. At the end of the day, I'll take an inconsistent yet interesting film over something that is consistently uninteresting every single time. Kudos to Fey for trying something new and actually showing us a different side of her as an actress.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is in cinemas across Australia now