by Patrick Bromley
For as beloved as she is for her work in television comedy, Tina Fey has not shown great judgment in choosing movie projects. With the exception of Mean Girls -- a film she wrote -- her big-screen efforts have alternated between tolerable and lazy. Despite a few movies that have seemed like slam dunks on paper (Date Night, Sisters), Fey has yet to receive the right vehicle to make use of all of her talents and turn her into a proper movie star.
Her latest, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, probably comes closest. This is not by mistake. In addition to developing the film, Fey produced it alongside her husband Jeff Richmond and mentor Lorne Michaels. It is scripted by Robert Carlock, her producing and writing partner on 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. This is a movie not just starring Tina Fey but packaged by the Tina Fey Machine. It is engineered to bring out the best in her. At this, it mostly succeeds. She's good in the movie. And the movie itself? It's...good enough.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a lot like a '90s Touchstone movie: an inoffensively bland and commercial mid-budget comedy drama made for adults built around a single star. It would feel dated if it wasn't for the 2016 sheen given to it by directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (the team responsible for I Love You Phillip Morris, Crazy Stupid Love and Focus), who add a bunch of indie band mopery from the likes of Elliot Smith (RIP), The National and Radiohead and every once in a while assert themselves with a show-offy camera move, like an extreme closeup of Tina Fey's eye looking out from behind her niqab that looks like something right out of Opera. Such moments are few and far between, though, as the movie is most often more than happy to be competent.
Getting us through the familiar spots is Tina Fey in one of her very best roles and very best performances. She's able to make the emotional stuff work without losing her sardonic inner Liz Lemon, making Kate Baker a nice bridge role between the comedies she normally makes and more dramatic roles she may be taking on in the future. The most frustrating thing about her character is that, like Liz Lemon on 30 Rock, she is constantly making self-deprecating remarks and being told by other characters that she's so plain and homely -- a 6 at best -- despite the fact that she is a glamorous and beautiful movie star and the face of several national cosmetics campaigns. The rest of the cast is fine; Margot Robbie is required only to be a "type" and Martin Freeman does a good job transitioning from insufferable prick to roguish hunk despite his Hobbit status. The movie's two major Afghan characters are played by Christopher Abbott (an Italian American) and Spanish-Italian Londoner Alfred Molina, which is kind of a problem at a time when Hollywood is already under fire for their lack of diversity. #WhiskeyTangoFoxtrotSoWhite