Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

What The F is this movie supposed to be? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot has a little bit of everything: action, comedy, romance and political intrigue. It is the story of a woman’s three-year adventure as a TV reporter based in Kabul, Afghanistan from ’03 to ’06.

Kim Baker (Tina Fey) is not unlike 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon. She’s a 40-something network employee whose professional and personal lives are not quite satisfying. Lemon was a show producer; Baker is a lowly news writer. When the opportunity to cover the allied peacekeeping effort in Afghanistan—with a chance to do on-camera reports—is offered, she jumps.

One of the first members of the media she encounters in Kabul is competing TV reporter Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie) who introduces herself by asking, “Can I [have sex with] your bodyguard?” Vanderpoel explains (and a Marine general played by Billy Bob Thornton later reiterates) that Baker may be a “6” or a “7” back home, but is a “10” to men in this foreign land. Baker replies to Vanderpoel, “What are you then, like a ‘15?’”

Despite the creature discomforts, Baker comes to enjoy the rush of being in a hot spot. She skypes with boyfriend Chris (Josh Charles) back home until she sees another woman in his bedroom. She hooks up with Scottish journalist Iain (Martin Freeman). She looks to get information from an Afghanistan cabinet member (Alfred Molina) who hits on her every time she calls on him.

A handful of chuckles and a few solid laughs make WTF a bit of a comedy. It’s also a bit of a buddy movie as Baker and Vanderpoel become chums. It’s a war movie, though the peril level varies throughout the film. The romance between Baker and Iain forms the crux of the third act. WTF covers a lot of category bases.

Co-directors are Glenn Ficarra and John Requa who scored big a few years ago with Crazy, Stupid Love. Robert Carlock who wrote and produced for 30 Rock wrote WTF. On the heavy to light spectrum, the script is on the light side, but not by much.

Last fall, another movie set in Afghanistan, Rock The Casbah starring Bill Murray, bombed badly. Can Tina Fey and Margot Robbie pull people into the theater to see a movie that sells itself as a comedy, but isn’t exactly a comedy? I think yes.

Most importantly (not really): Whiskey Tango Foxtrot has caused me to forgive Tina Fey for last year’s misfire, Sisters. You’re back in my good graces, TF!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sisters

 

Amy Poehler was acclaimed for voicing the role of Joy in the beloved Inside Out this summer. But, as winter beckons, there is no Joy in Mudville. Amy Poehler has struck out.

Tina Fey was one of the brains behind the Netflix hit The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, released in March. But, come December, Kimmy may want to go back underground after seeing Tina’s latest film Sisters.

The setup for this comedy is pure gold. The sisters, Maura (Poehler) and Kate (Fey), are heading back to their childhood home to visit mom and dad (Dianne Wiest and James Brolin). But when they arrive, they find that mom and dad have sold the house and moved into a condo.

The house is empty and ready for final inspection before closing. Okay, empty except for everything that remains in the girls’ rooms. Kate and Maura find their old diaries and other memorabilia. That scene should have made for some solid laughs. It did not.

They decide to throw one final big party before the home is passed along to the new owners. Here comes a problem: too many Saturday Night Live cast members who fail to deliver the goods. Their names: Bobby Moynihan, Kate McKinnon, Rachel Dratch and Maya Rudolph. (SNL alum Chris Parnell appears near the film’s open.) Despite raucous behavior galore, the party fails to generate commensurate guffaws. Even Samantha Bee, who regularly kills on The Daily Show, fails to connect in Sisters.

Amy and Tina are to be applauded for their efforts. They both try their damnedest to make Sisters work. But teen sex comedy style debauchery is not their forte.

I did like wrestler John Cena as a stoic drug dealer whose menu of intoxicants is ridiculously long. Also, I wonder about Bryan James D’Arcy. He’s in the cast, is seen a time or two but contributes little to the film.

Sisters looks great on paper: Two funny, likable ladies in a situation that portends strong comedy potential. Sadly, it doesn’t look so good onscreen.

This Is Where I Leave You

 

This Is Where I Leave You tries hard but falls short. The film waffles between being a story about Judd’s (Jason Bateman) breakup with his wife Quinn (Abigail Spencer) and being an ensemble piece about a family whose father/husband has just died. It tries to be a comedy but is only partially successful. It tries to touch our emotions but is only partially successful.

The cast of TIWILY is impressive. The adult children of Hillary Altman (Jane Fonda) are Judd, Wendy (Tina Fey), Paul (Corey Stall) and Phillip (Adam Driver). Kathryn Hahn plays Paul’s wife Alice. Connie Britton is Phillip’s lover, Tracy. Wendy’s husband Barry (Aaron Lazar) gets very little face time.

The movie opens with Judd catching his wife cheating with his boss (Dax Shepard) who is an outrageous testosterone-fueled satellite radio host. This is where he leaves his wife. Soon after, dad leaves his family behind. So there’s your title.

When the siblings come home to bury their dad, mom tells them that his last wish was that the 4 of them spend a full week in the house. One might expect hilarity to ensue here, but the humor is weak and the film is not as funny as hoped for. TIWILY has its moments, but the overall chuckle factor is rather low on the scale.

Yes, there are those relatable family moments when long-buried memories and resentments resurface. There are those moments when perceptive family members figure out that another isn’t being completely honest. There are reconnections with the past, including Judd’s fling with Penny (Rose Byrne) who just happens to be working at the family’s sporting goods store.

Shawn Levy, who directed the Night At The Museum movies, Date Night and one of my kids’ favorites, Big Fat Liar, is director for TIWILY. He does a nice job of squeezing in numerous characters and plot points with only a handful of each getting shortchanged.

I keep comparing this film with 2005’s The Family Stone, which presented both the emotional moments and the funny stuff better. This Is Where I Leave You is not a “bad” film. If you’re a fan of Jason Bateman or Tina Fey, you’ll enjoy seeing them onscreen. But TIWILY is a middle-of-the-pack movie that, for me, inspires deep feelings of indifference.