Tina Fey’s new film “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” based on the memoir “The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan” by Kim Barker, is a tale of two movies: the first half of the film is a comedy, much likes its previews suggest. However, the second half of the film is a mess of genres, ranging from drama to action with a little romance thrown in for good measure.
The first half of this film doesn’t offer any belly laughs, but it does score consistent chuckles throughout, with witty repartee between characters. Watching Barker (Fey) try to adjust to her new life as a war correspondent, living in what amounts to a frat house, filled with other correspondents, complete with plenty of booze and drugs, is entertaining to say the least. Unfortunately, the film never finds its lane and dips its toes in too many genres, which hurts the overall story.
By far the best part of “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is the acting. Nearly every actor who appears on screen delivers a wonderful performance, perhaps none more so than Fey and her love interest Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman). The two actors have a natural ease around each other that plays well throughout the film. But Fey and Freeman aren’t the only ones who turn in impressive performances: Margot Robbie does a tremendous job as Tanya, a seasoned war correspondent who quickly befriends Barker and shows her the ropes, and Billy Bob Thornton also does a nice job as a marine general who is impressed by Barker’s tenacity after his initial skepticism.
The cast does have its issues though. Alfred Molina plays Afghan official Ali Massoud Sadiq, and, while he gives a strong performance, as he always seems to do, he is not of Afghan or Middle Eastern descent. The same problem may be found in Barker’s translator and “fixer” Fahim Ahmadzai, who is played by Christopher Abbot of “Girls.”
While Abbot gives a stoic performance that fits perfectly with the discomfort of his character’s situation – helping an American woman while still respecting his own culture – he is American, and the film may have been better served by not white-washing Afghan characters.
Where the film starts to fall apart is during its second half: the laughs dry up quickly and the film shifts its focus to action scenes and growing tension between characters. Along with those growing tensions comes the blooming romance between Barker and MacKelpie, which distracts from the main story and overshadows the latter part of the film.
It is unfortunate that the second half of the film is so disheveled, because it starts out so promising. It isn’t easy to make a comedy about war, but the beginning of the film does a capable job of doing just that. If the rest of the film had followed the early tone it would have been much better off, and probably more enjoyable overall.