By Bill Wine

By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (CBS)Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, indeed.

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For a quick memory device to help you recall the title of this war-zone comedy-drama, check out the first letter of each word and consider that this is the military we’re visiting with.

Yep, WTF.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot stars Tina Fey stars as Kim Baker, a restless and unfulfilled cable news reporter (changed from the book’s real-life Chicago Tribune reporter named Kim Barker) whose job is boring and whose relationship with her boyfriend (Josh Charles) is stalling.

So she doesn’t protest too strongly when, surprisingly, she’s sent to Kabul in Afghanistan in 2002 on assignment.

The station’s network bosses need someone to take on an open-ended war correspondent post, learn to be an on-air reporter overnight, and cover Operation Enduring Freedom in the aftermath of 9/11.

And she just happens to be unmarried and childless. So she goes and joins the other embedded journalists and gets entrenched in the U.S. war against the Taliban.

 

(2½ stars out of 4)

(2½ stars out of 4)

 

Australian actress Margot Robbie plays Tanya Vanderpoel, a British television journalist who immediately befriends Barker.

Of course, women covering the Taliban brings its own unique set of problems, given that women in Afghanistan are treated as second-class citizens. So lots of dangerous and bizarre occurrences ensue, but Baker on the front line covering the War on Terror also gets more or less addicted to the adrenaline rush of real risk in an actual war, with its unquestionable excitement and unavoidable chaos.

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And, along with her wartime colleagues, she gets caught up in it and finds new ways to unwind in what they call the Kabubble, where in-your-face horror and utter absurdity are never more than minutes away and have become the accepted norm.

Baker and her colleagues also become increasingly frustrated by how much the concurrent war in Iraq is stealing focus from their efforts.

In support, Billy Bob Thornton is the scarily by-the-book General Hollanek of the U.S. Marines; Martin Freeman is Scottish war photographer Iain MacKelpie, with whom Baker becomes romantically involved; Alfred Molina plays a lecherous local official with a crazed crush on Barker; and Christopher Abbot is Afghan interpreter, guide, and fixer Fahim Ahmadzai. (And speaking of diversity or the lack thereof, that the latter two actors are not Afghans will bother some viewers more than others.)

Directing is the team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid, Love; I Love You Phillip Morris; Focus), from a screenplay by Robert Carlock (Fey’s longtime writing partner) that’s based on the 2011 Kim Barker memoir, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan (the movie makes do with just Afghanistan).

The script, early titles for which included The Taliban Shuffle and Fun House, doesn’t really deal with why we were there fighting so much as how.

Come to think of it, the creators show a remarkable lack of interest in war-torn Afghanistan itself given that the film is set there, although perhaps it’s worth mentioning that last year’s sad, similarly set Barry Levinson film, Rock the Kasbah, with Bill Murray, was even more cavalier in that regard.

For Fey, who co-produced along with Lorne Michaels, this is surely a star turn. But it’s also a more demanding role and a more extensive character arc – a journey of self-actualization — than she usually gets, one that gives her a chance to demonstrate her range and dramatic shops a bit. And she’s up to the task.

As a comedy-drama that registers as tepid in both departments but works somewhat better as drama than comedy, WTF certainly has its limitations. But its sense of place and Fey’s solid presence make it both watchable and respectable.

So we’ll enlist 2½ stars out of 4 for the passable war-what-is-it-good-for dramedy, Whiskey Tango, Foxtrot, in which Tina Fey joins the fray and finds her way.

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