Somewhere in Whisky Tango Foxtrot, there’s a really clever, insightful comedy trying to get out about journalists in the Middle East. While the film isn’t without its memorable moments, the end product isn’t entirely successful. Part of the problem is that there aren’t nearly as many laughs as the advertisements would have you believe. To be fair, the movie doesn’t necessarily aspire to be consistently hilarious like Borat or Team America: World Police. Directors Glenn Fiarra and John Requa instead try to strike a balance between humor and drama, more along the lines of MASH.
Even as a wartime dramedy, though, Whisky Tango Foxtrot isn’t terribly funny or thought provoking. Since it doesn’t quite hit its mark in either department, the transitions between lighter moments and heavier moments just feel uneven. Granted, the film’s depiction of the Middle East and commentary on feminism is much more competent than what we got in Sex and the City 2. At the same time, it doesn’t really say anything especially provocative, humorous, or new.
Tina Fey stars as Kim Barker, a war correspondent who’s sent to cover stories in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the course of three years. During Operation Enduring Freedom, Kim befriends a big time reporter named Tanya (Margot Robbie) and a charming Scottish journalist named Iain (Martin Freeman). She also develops an unlikely bond with Billy Bob Thornton as a Marine Corps colonel. This ensemble does well for the most part, but there are a few miscast roles. For example, Alfred Molina stars as a corrupt attorney general and Christopher Abbot plays Kim’s kindly intermediary. Neither actor is of Arab descent and it also doesn’t help that they’re stuck playing such one-note characters. Did the casting directors learn nothing from Emma Stone in Aloha or Rooney Mara in Pan?
Easily the best part of Whisky Tango Foxtrot is our leading lady’s performance. Fey naturally brings her trademark quirky, offbeat charm to her character. We additionally get to see another side of the actress, demonstrating that she has true dramatic range. Watching Fey in this role, however, you can’t help but wish that she were in a more compelling film. Whisky Tango Foxtrot likely would’ve been a lot funnier and smarter is Fey had adapted the real life Kim Baker’s memoir. Instead, Robert Carlock penned the screenplay, which is mostly straightforward an unambitious.
Carlock is also a gifted writer, having worked with Fey on Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock. You’d think that he would be able to derive plenty of great comedic and dramatic material from the story of an American woman adjusting to the hectic life in a war zone. Yet, the audience just keeps waiting for Whisky Tango Foxtrot to take off and it never fully delivers. What we’re left with is a well intentioned, but choppy, film that’s about as muddled as its title.