Whisky Tango Foxtrot: Jolts and wheezes like a shrapnel dented army truck
But that’s the balance Whiskey Tango Foxtrot shakily tries to maintain.
Based loosely on the book The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days In Afghanistan And Pakistan by journalist Kim Barker, directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra’s interpretation of her experiences as a war reporter during the mid-2000s is unruly, slipping and sliding with the clash of cultures Kim - played by the magnificent Tina Fey - is trying to get a grip on.
Sick of cycling the same miles over and over at the gym, and conveniently lacking both kids and a husband, Barker (Fey) ticks all the boxes for her cash-strapped news station to pack her off to Kabul to cover the Afghan war.
“I just wanted out of my job. I wanted out of my mildly depressive boyfriend. I just wanted to blow everything up,” she admits, only to be told: “That’s the most American-white-lady story I’ve ever heard.”
Used to sitting behind a desk, Kim sets out with a gaudy orange rucksack, a headscarf that keeps falling off and a hunger for something new, however scary.
Recklessly naive at times, she’ll jump out of the car to capture footage, however dangerous the scenario, much to the chagrin of her weary fixer Fahim (Christopher Abbott) who is trying to guide her through the unstable social and political landscape of Afghanistan without either of them getting shot.
Meanwhile, fellow reporter and good-time gal Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie) is more keen to teach Kim the drunken ways of the “Kabubble”, a world dominated by grimy, testosterone driven news reporters obliterating what they’ve seen of war with booze and banned substances.
Kim must discover whether she can survive the thrill of reporting and the after party chasers, or lose her grip on ‘real life’ altogether.
Fumbling and improbable at times, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (aka WTF) jolts and wheezes like a shrapnel dented army truck, however hard Fey struggles to keep Kim’s transformation from tired office drone to brave, sweary spokesperson for the forgotten Afghan war, on track.
Robbie’s bullish Tanya is the definition of ‘blonde bombshell’, but reveals steely nerves when it comes to actual missiles, and not too shabby comic-timing either.
Abbott brings a gravitas and sincerity to fixer Fahim, while his one-on-one scenes with Fey are the most emotionally nuanced to be had, providing nuggets of feeling that rattle around in a barrel of heavy drinking and lewd jokes.
But there are some real laughs - Fey ekes out what she can - even though screenwriter Robert Carlock relies far too heavily on expletives for cheap titters.
Alfred Molina takes an odd turn as an inappropriate government official, and Martin Freeman lays on a thick Scottish accent as crude freelance photographer/unsuitable love interest Iain, while Billy Bob Thornton subtly steals the show as the pernickety General Hollanek. But, despite some strong performances, Requa and Ficarra’s picture skitters without confidence.