One of the key points made in “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is that the public eventually grows tired of a news story unless something big happens. The same happens to this movie.
“Whiskey Foxtrot Tango” starts with an interesting idea. But the script by Robert Carlock, so loosely based on the book by Kim Barker that the comparisons are easy to miss, drones on to the point of boredom. There are a few attempts to lift up the story with some forced plot lines about job security and how tough it is for war correspondents to keep a relationship going. Neither is interesting enough to lift up the movie.
“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” goes beyond what the public sees on television. It’s a glimpse at how journalists must deal with hostile environments, separation from family and friends, strict military rules and constant deadlines. These are people who work hard and play even harder.
At the center is Kim Barker (Tina Fey), a writer for a TV news service who believes her life is going nowhere. She volunteers to go to Afghanistan to cover the war despite having no field experience. Fans of the book will notice that the movie takes a huge change of direction – the real Barker was a print journalist. But, being a TV reporter makes for better visuals.
Barker fumbles her way through early days of reporting, but she eventually becomes a seasoned veteran. As her TV career gains respectability, her personal life becomes as bleak as the Afghanistan landscape.
The biggest problem with “Whiskey Foxtrot Tango’ is Fey. The “Saturday Night Life” product never seems comfortable as the chance-taking, hard-partying reporter, which leaves her performance flat. It’s never a good sign when all of the supporting players are far more interesting than the main character.
Margot Robbie shows the kind of life and enthusiasm Fey should have brought to the role. As a competing journalist, Robbie steals every scene with Fey. You can call it a mass robbery when you factor in Billy Bob Thorton, who is far more developed and polished as the military leader with whom Barker must deal.
Martin Freeman, tossed into the mix as a love interest for Barker, would have made for a much more compelling story – as would Alfred Molina as a shifty Afghanistan politician who would love to bed Barker.
There are even a few farmers in the movie who could have been more interesting than what Fey showed.
It would have helped if directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa paced the movie better. It is set in a war zone, yet there are only a few tense scenes. And there is no sense of time as the movie covers years as if it was just a busy weekend.
It’s obvious that the filmmakers were trying to make “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” into a 21st Century version of “M*A*S*H” or “Catch 22.” Both those films worked because the central characters stood strong and the supporting players made them look better. There was also an irreverence that is nowhere to be found in “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.”
What is left is a movie that never really says much about TV journalism, war, foreign politics or relationships. It’s like a dud hand grenade in that at first glance it looks like it could blast but soon it’s clear there’s no pop.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Cast: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman
Director: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Rated R (language, sexual content, violence)
Opens: Friday, March 4