WHISKEY Tango Foxtrot – that’s military alphabet speak for “what the f***” – befits this warfare comedy down to a tee and is about the only thing about it that truly works.
Based on the 2011 memoir The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Kim Barker, the plot follows Tina Fey’s bored journalist who finds her career going precisely nowhere as a copywriter for TV newsreaders. When an exciting but dangerous opportunity comes along to report news on the ground in Afghanistan, Kim jumps at the chance to do something really meaningful with her career.
What was supposed to a be short three-month assignment turns into years as Kim wades through the trenches of wartime reporting while forming a friendship with fellow reporter Tanya (Margot Robbie) and a romantic relationship with freelance photographer Iain (Martin Freeman, sporting a questionable Glasgow accent).
What ensues is a curious mishmash of tones constantly at odds with one another. On the one hand it has a crass joke-telling sensibility, uncomfortably making the customs of its Middle Eastern setting the constant butt of the joke rather than it being the sort of sly satire it so smarmily thinks it is.
On the other hand it attempts to endear you to the plight of Fey’s central character, someone with – as the film itself admits – the “most American white lady story I’ve ever heard.” We’re given little reason to care for her, especially in light of the kind of dilemmas facing the warring nation with which she’s chosen to surround herself.
Fey makes things watchable – showing off some dramatic chops we haven’t really seen from her before – but she’s far too good for the half-cooked material she’s given.
So it doesn’t really work as a riotous, boundary-pushing adult warfare comedy; many of the jokes feel old hat or one-note, such as the female gender being painted in a bad light because the first licensed woman driver in the region crashes on her initial attempt. Nor does it function well as an affecting personal crisis drama. What’s left is its so-called geo-political statements but it comes at things from a very limited worldview, not saying anything you haven’t heard far more astutely before.
There’s some fun to be had in some of the character-based conversational comedy but for the most part its meandering plot lacks real punch or much of a point at all. It all feels watered down and mixed together with conflicting tones, leaving you wondering just what the film’s even supposed to be. WTF indeed.