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"WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT"
(2016) (Tina Fey, Margot Robbie) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: A novice war reporter tries to make her mark in the industry while covering the war in Afghanistan in the mid 2000s.
PLOT:
It's 2003 and Kim Baker (TINA FEY) is a news copy writer whose life is upended when she's assigned to be a war reporter. Leaving boyfriend Chris (JOSH CHARLES) back home in the states, Kim arrives in Afghanistan and is paired with local driver Fahim Ahmadzai (CHRISTOPHER ABBOTT), cameraman Tall Brian (NICHOLAS BRAUN), and her security man, Nic (STEPHEN PEACOCKE). After meeting seasoned war reporter Tanya Vanderpoel (MARGOT ROBBIE), who introduces her to the local party scene and advises her not to sleep with Scottish war photographer Iain MacKelpie (MARTIN FREEMAN), Kim heads out on patrol with the likes of Lance Corporal Coughlin (EVAN JONIGKEIT), interviewing him and the likes of Colonel (and future General) Hollanek (BILLY BOB THORNTON).

At the same time, she tries to score interviews with local officials, such as Ali Massoud Sadiq (ALFRED MOLINA), the soon-to-be Attorney General of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan who's willing to exchange info for the chance of bedding her. As the months pass by, Kim comes to find herself in this new role, but becomes addicted to the adrenaline rush of rushing into danger, and must contend with the network back home cutting back its desire or need for her war coverage.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
I get the thrill and even addiction of being an adrenaline junkie, so to speak. After all, in the moments leading up to potential danger, the actual dealing with it, and the satisfaction of having conquered (or at least survived) that results in the release of brain chemicals such as adrenaline, endorphins, serotonin and dopamine.

While naturally occurring within the body, they -- like outside drugs -- are both addictive and necessitate a greater amount to experience the same high over time. As a result, many thrill seekers continue to push the limit to keep experiencing that sensation, sometimes resulting in injury or death.

For me, I like the feeling, but prefer a modicum of control, meaning the riding of roller coasters and such. Others, however, skydive, surf huge waves, run with the bulls or, less frequently, become war correspondents.

Granted, some of the latter do so in the belief that they're doing something important, but others are all-out thrill seekers and happy chemical junkies who put life and limb at risk by stepping into military conflicts and war zones without the accompanying military and/or psychological training.

I have no idea where Chicago Tribune reporter Kim Barker operated within those lines, but her time reporting in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the 2000s is the inspiration for Kim Baker, the apparent thrill seeker protagonist played by Tina Fey in the war dramedy "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" (so named for the acronym its letters create).

Based on Barker's 2011 memoir, "The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan," the film has Fey's character being a broadcast news copy writer who's suddenly assigned to cover the war in Afghanistan in 2003. She's clearly a fish out of water who's in over her head, but it doesn't take long before she's literally jumping out into the fray to get footage of a firefight between U.S. Marines and armed insurgents.

I get that the story is all about a woman finding herself (at one point she literally talks about having come to the realization -- via her daily use of exercise equipment -- that not only was she not getting anywhere, but she was actually going backwards) and thus having no general problem with her exhibiting such behavior. Had directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa along with screenwriter Robert Carlock showed us some signs of her having such tendencies back home before shipping out, that might have been easier to buy.

They don't and instead such thrill seeking lightens the overall atmosphere of the film, which is fine in theory. But as was the case in last year's "Rock the Kasbah" with Bill Murray (also playing a fish out of water in war-torn Afghanistan), the mix of comedy, satire, war drama and sociopolitical elements doesn't mesh that well. At least not to the degree that they did in "Good Morning, Vietnam" all those years ago. In short, it seems like it wants to be edgy and push the limits, but it doesn't go far enough and often seems like it's holding back (despite all of the partying, drug use, sex, language and so on).

Fey is fine in the role and shows solid signs of expanding beyond her current comedy trappings, but I wish the script gave her more opportunities to explore the character. She's certainly surrounded by a terrific cast ranging from Martin Freeman as a war photographer who rubs her the wrong way at first, but then the right way after that, and Margot Robbie as a seasoned war correspondent who's a true party girl.

Alfred Molina plays a local elected official who's intent on getting stories for Kim if she'd become his "special" friend, Billy Bob Thornton shows up as a Marine officer who comes to appreciate her chutzpah, and Christopher Abbott plays a local man who serves as Kim's driver and assistant, but also warns her about the aforementioned thrill seeker addiction.

There's a lot at play in the film, but I just didn't find the various elements and tones mixing together into a stellar whole. It's easy enough to watch, but after this and the earlier Bill Murray flick (that bombed horribly), perhaps it's time to stop trying to place so many genres into an Afghan setting and instead stick with just one. "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" rates as no more than a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed March 1, 2016 / Posted March 4, 2016


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