By Chaz Lipp
Directing team Glenn Ficarra and John Requa are at the helm. Robert Carlock (30 Rock) adapted the screenplay from Kim Barker’s memoir, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is ultimately something of a Tina Fey vanity pic. For one thing, she always looks perfectly camera-ready as Afghanistan-embedded journalist Kim Baker – even after a long night of heavy drinking. The main reason it feels like a self-serving piece for Fey (who co-produced) is that, in the end, it seems to exist more to exhibit Fey’s dramatic chops than to tell a story. To be fair, she ably acquits herself. But that doesn’t quite justify the thin narrative.
TV reporter Baker, despite her boyfriend’s disapproval, takes what was initially a short assignment in Afghanistan following the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom. Early on Whiskey is a genuinely funny ‘fish out of water’ picture, with Baker forced to adapt to the wildly foreign culture cultivated by Western media personnel living in the midst of a war in the Middle East. She learns the sexual politics among the journalists from vampy sexpot Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie). For the tougher interactions (i.e. direct contact with the people of Afghanistan), her guide is Fahim Ahmadzai (Christopher Abbott), who becomes her trusted friend. General Hollanek (Billy Bob Thornton), U.S. Marine Corps, is her contact when dealing the ground forces. Initially General Hollanek views Baker as a nuisance, tagging along on missions, but comes to respect her go-getter attitude.
All this set up is interesting and entertaining, even if the casting of Caucasian actor Christopher Abbott as Ahmadzai is a true head-scratcher. Come to think of it, so is that of Alfred Molina as Ali Massoud Sadiq, a high-ranking Afghan government leader. (Baker repeatedly tries to develop a working relationship with Sadiq, only to be constantly plied for sexual favors.) Unlike Abbott, I suppose one could refer to Molina as appearing ethnically ambiguous, but he’s not of Middle Eastern descent. This type of whitewashing – in 2016! – is more unacceptable than ever. Producers Fey, Lorne Michaels, and Ian Bryce should’ve seen that ethnically-appropriate actors were cast in these roles.
Having not read Barker’s source memoir, I don’t know what’s real and what’s invented. But suffice it to say that, either way, Whiskey goes off the rails in a significant way. As her time in Afghanistan stretches from months to years, Baker develops a relationship with a photographer, Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman). By the third act, it almost feels like the filmmakers realized they didn’t have a “big” way to finish their meandering story. A kidnapping plot involving Iain turns the film into something far different from how it began. It’s an unsatisfactorily forced ending, liable to leave you wondering (as the film’s title itself asks), “WTF?”
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Images: Paramount Pictures