With a cast that includes Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, and Martin Freeman in leading roles, and Billy Bob Thornton, Chris Abbott, and Alfred Molina hovering around in support, there’s always something to savor on-screen in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Most of the film’s enjoyment comes from the casual dynamic between the characters and actors, with Robert Carlock peppering enough humor into his script to, at the start, keep Whiskey Tango Foxtrot engaging and a fun watch. But, despite this solid groundwork, any attempt to add a dramatic heft and intensity is underwhelming.
It also doesn’t help that the tease of it being adapted from Kim Barker’s book The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days In Afghanistan and Pakistan, which suggests that the film’s plot will be grounded, ultimately proves to be very wide of the mark. Instead, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is almost obnoxiously predictable and melodramatic. Character relationships and plot points proceed in a safe and eventually underwhelming manner that’s the equivalent of a mother smothering their child with love.
In Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Tina Fey takes the lead role of Kim Baker, who, bored with her life in New York City, decides to become a war correspondent in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. Released from the shackles of her city life, Kim Baker embraces her new role, befriending English journalist Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie) and Scottish photographer Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman).
Having previously combined drama and comedy with her performance in 2014’s This Is Where I Leave You, Tina Fey takes an even bigger step toward the dramatic wilderness with Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. And, for the most part, she’s a success. There’s a genuine, consistent arc to Kim Baker’s plight, as she goes from bored and lost in a dead-end career to loving the glorious, adrenaline-fueled chaos of being a war correspondent.
But, as Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’s plot disappointingly plods into hackneyed territory that instantly feels derivative, the subtly of Fey’s performance and complexity of her role evaporates as she’s reduced to clichéd responses and is unable to solidify the drama.
Before that point, though, Tina Fey does more than enough to underline her credentials as a leading lady. Sure, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot might not possess the belly-laughs that you’d expect from anything that features the 30 Rock actress, but the patter between Tina Fey and her aforementioned formidable co-stars means there’s always a light, enjoyable breeziness to the film to warmly relax in.
Which makes Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’s failed jettison into more dramatic territory -- with kidnappings, explosions, poverty, and betrayal -- even more frustrating. And in the end, left in a cinematic purgatory between drama and comedy, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’s positives are ultimately diluted by a Hollywood approach that just doesn’t suit its story, and leaves you feeling meh.