REVIEW: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

1 03 2016

There is no requirement that a war film – or a film set in a war – grapple existentially or philosophically with that conflict. But, at the very least, it should at least make for more than just wallpaper for another narrative. Such is the case in Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” based on Kim Barker’s memoir about her experiences covering the dog days of the American presence in Afghanistan.

Very few people – except maybe a few U.S. senators – go to fictionalized accounts of wartime stories and expect the level of historical discourse that might accompany a documentary. (Looking for a great one about Afghanistan? Find “Restrepo” or “The Oath” online.) A certain level of simplification is expected, if not practically mandated to connect with moviegoers who might not know the locations of Iraq and Afghanistan on a globe. It’s not that “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” fails at providing context, like Michael Bay’s “13 Hours,” that proves so bothersome. It’s that the film doesn’t even try.

Were it not for the occasional gunshots and explosions, one could easily mistake the war zone of Afghanistan for any oppressive third-world country. Tina Fey’s protagonist Kim Barker bops around the “Ka-bubble” of Kabul less in search of a hard-hitting story and more in search of herself. She takes the wartime correspondent position in America’s Forgotten War as a means of rescuing herself from becoming forgotten as well. Facing a midlife crisis from her dead-end relationship and desk-bound career, she hops on the plane to Afghanistan with the same gusto of Elizabeth Gilbert in “Eat Pray Love.”

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24 08 2015

When I was in middle school, Will Smith was the man.  Any conversation about movies seemed to inevitably drift towards his spotless record (most of us were too young to remember 1999’s “Wild Wild West”) at the box office and in quality.  His named practically guaranteed a fun ride.

Fast forward to today, where Smith is no longer the summer staple or inherently bankable star he once was.  Since 2008, he has only three non-cameo film roles: “Men in Black III” (admittedly, not terrible), “After Earth” (which I dutifully avoided like the plague), and now, “Focus.”  For someone who so seldom works these days, it seems unfathomable that this was the best Will Smith could do for a rare starring vehicle.

Writer/director duo Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s conman film has so little taste and flavor that it really needed Smith to bring his A-game.  But never has he appeared so off his game.  As Nicky, an aging pro in the field, Smith seems tired.  Not weary or exasperated like Paul Newman in similarly themed “The Sting.”  Just plain exhausted and out of gas.  His flair and charisma are completely missing in action.

The movie does not even boast any particularly exciting heist scenes or elaborately planned schemes that could help overcome this deficit.  All it really offers to offset Will Smith’s lusterless performance is Margot Robbie, who gets the chance to show that she has more to offer than the sex appeal and histrionics she was reduced to in “The Wolf of Wall Street.”  The movie is too boring to really make a definitive statement as to whether she is the real deal, but as Jess, she did make the difference between me turning off the film and seeing it through to a rather humdrum conclusion.  C2stars