WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT coughs its first gag in the WTF initials of the title, and nothing suits it better. In 2003, a bored columnist (Tina Fey) is assigned as war correspondent to Afghanistan, and over several tours finds new meaning in a welter of cultural clashes, occupational skirmishes and actual firefights. What better way to Touch Hearts with a Complex Smile than make a War Comedy—about a war that’s still going on ? Good thing the rocket-free deserts of New Mexico and Morocco and some close-enough-‘colorful atmosphere’ scenes in ‘friendly’ New Delhi (complete with close-enough-‘colorful inhabitants’ for cheap, non-union extras: now that’s Democracy!) can pass as A-stan or the smut jokes might not work as well.
It doesn’t matter that the 2016 dramedy is based off a non-fiction account and can dodge an ethics frag by glibly pooting “but, it’s true!” It’s a no-brainer to boast slick production details since almost every movie today looks good technically. It can’t claim scattered laughs as extenuating circumstances at its self-conducted court martial on morals charges. And, other than as an ego-challenge-well-met and an obvious bone toss to her fan base, sorry, but it doesn’t mean jack that Tina Fey adeptly handles a lead written to have some drama as well as mirth: if she couldn’t, after performing for 17 years, it would be a signal achievement. Give this trouper a medal for pretending to be someone pretending to go to war, one that pretended to be about something other than it was/is. *
Directed by Glenn Ficarra & John Requa, scripted by Robert Carlock, off Kim Barker’s 2011 memoir “The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days In Afghanistan and Pakistan”. During her tours, ‘Kim’ meets soldiers (Billy Bob Thornton), warlords, corrupt Afghan officials (Alfred Molina) and horny, hard-drinking journalists (Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman), a cute urchin, swears (like a dude! give this chick a helmet, bro!). Through Kim’s hissysnits we learn that War Things Are Sad, A Few People Get Blown Up Between Binges, It’s Really All About The Troops/ In The Final Analysis/At The End Of The Day/Light in Tunnel/How Much More B.S. Can You Swallow?
The cinematography (Xavier Grobet) is good, the players are fine. Thornton walks through blithely sarcastic, Freeman does what he can with a clichéd, charm-challenged character and Molina is the modern version of Anthony Quinn when it comes to ethnicity tabulation. Robbie, playing a sort of Lara Logan knockoff/knockout, is on target, but along with Suicide Squad this marks her down for doing good work in the two most conceptually bankrupt films of an otherwise solid (if thematically dark) year for movies.
Insulting to Afghans, Scots, Chinese, soldiers, anyone who can follow dots; produced for $35,000,000, the mission crept, taking in but $24,900,000, more money down the bottomless black hole of justifying lies. 112 minutes, with Christopher Abbott, Stephen Peacocke, Sheila Vand (wasted), Evan Jonigkeit, Josh Charles, Cherry Jones, Soledad O’Brien (journalistic integrity on tap) and Thomas Kretschmann.
*Co-produced by Fey and Lorne Michaels, call it Saturday Blight Lite: How Ostensible Liberals Help to Backdoor Sell The War Machine or “It’s A Good Thing I Can Laugh It Off, ‘Cuz Otherwise That Middle East War That’s Bankrupted Our Country, Killed Millions Of People And Never Ends Would Be A Real Drag.” After watching, use your
replacement brain magic phone-toy to send BGF a sad-icon face to simulate what previous eons of cannon fodder referred to as ’emotion’–better yet, take a selfie, in the theater, of ‘Me Being Sad Watching Tina In Some Arab War Place’.
“Next”, Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler in Shitstorm Shortly, hilarious WW3 farce about the US, Russia and China exchanging nuclear moneyshots between pantloads of poop jokes.