MOVIE BUFF-ET: Fey stretches type, succeeds with Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Tina Fey in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot / Photo: Frank Masi/Paramount Pictures

Tina Fey could have continued to star in funny but silly comedies for another decade, and absolutely no one would have minded.

Who doesn’t like her whip-smart but ultimately harmless brand of humor that she cultivated from her time with Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock and carried with her to the big screen in films like Mean Girls, Baby Mamma, Sisters and Date Night?

However with Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Fey ups her game by taking all her charm, self-deprecation and cleverness in a more serious yet still comedic direction, and the talented actress pulls of the move even if the film doesn’t totally stick the landing.

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Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a comedy wrapped around a war movie, and as pleasing as the laughs are, the horror of war is in your face. Fey’s character TV news producer Kim Baker attempts to adjust to the chaos that surrounds her in war-torn Kabul, Afghanistan, in her first combat-zone assignment.

The film, directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa from a script by Fey’s longtime writing partner Robert Carlock, does remind one of M.A.S.H — the film and TV series — except the point of view is from the journalists covering the soldiers instead of the doctors patching them up.

Along with showing rigors of reporting on war, the movie addresses the sexism engrained both in the Middle Eastern culture and in journalism. Fey, whose character is based on journalist Kim Barker, makes friends with fellow reporter Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie), who not only explains the sexual politics of her position as a female journalist in the Middle East but also shows her the ropes as an embedded reporter.

The camera really does love Robbie, who is in for a big summer with co-starring roles in big-budget genre films The Legend of Tarzan (July 1) as Jane and the DC Comics anti-hero movie Suicide Squad (Aug. 5) as Harley Quinn.

Fey quickly draws the ire of Billy Bob Thornton as Marine Col. Hallanek, who just doesn’t want her around his men, and she also encounters Alfred Molina as the over-the-top Sandiq, an up-and-coming politician/warlord, who wants to be her “special friend.” On a first date of sorts, he takes her out to shoot machine guns and is impressed with her prowess.

Martin Freeman plays a cocky Scottish photographer, whom Fey grows close to as she becomes more and more intoxicated by the adventure and danger of her assignment. The film does not ignore the emotional toll and physical toll taken on the soldiers she covers or on the reporter herself.

With an excellent cast in support, Fey and her partners swung for the fence with the film, but ultimately belted a ground-rule double as the movie strains too hard to push emotional buttons. The movie still remains entertaining and poignant, and makes me look forward to what comes next from Fey.

Gods of Egypt

(PG-13) 2 hrs., 7 min.

Gerard Butler in Gods of Egypt / Courtesy

I’m not going to try to convince you that Gods of Egypt even remotely resembles a great or even good movie. It’s doesn’t.

The film directed by Alex Proyas (The Crow, Dark City I Robot) is cheesier than Cheetos, and the copious amounts of CGI effects the movie inflicts on the screen are almost as annoying as the orange dust that sticks to your digits while eating the aforementioned snacks.

The dialogue is wooden, the performances are arch, and the story of the war between mythical Egyptian immortals Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Set (Gerard Butler) is literally as old as the pyramids. In every way — except for its budget — Gods of Egypt is a B movie.

If this were the 1960s, the movie would be making the rounds at drive-ins or playing as kiddie matinees in discount theaters. The movie reminds me of schmaltzy Pablum that entertained me in my youth in the days before cable TV, when old movies were shown in the afternoon and after the late news on local channels across the country.

Based on early reviews and buzz, I went into the movie with low expectations, and surprisingly had fun. It reminded me in a good way of the old Ray Harryhausen stop-motion animation fantasy and monster films that I doted on as a kid. What can I say? The film played on my nostalgia, and I had fun.

So if you like the old Steve Reeves Hercules movies, fluff like the 1980 version of Flash Gordon, or just B movies in general, you might actually like Gods of Egypt.

If not, don’t bother or at least wait for the RiffTrax version.

Classic Corner

With Gods of Egypt playing in theaters for at least another week, this might be the best time to consider a couple of the movies that obviously influenced the box-office bomb. The films of special-effects master Ray Harryhausen have their imprint on every second of Gods of Egypt, but Alex Proyas is only one of many who still marvel at the late artist’s work. There are few big-budget directors today and no special effects practitioners who weren’t influenced by Harryhausen. There is a fine documentary about his work called Ray Harryhausen Special Effects Titan, if you are interested in learning more about his work.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad was a special-effects wonder when released in 1958 featuring Harryhausen’s horned Cyclops, a giant two-headed vulture called Roc and a cobra woman. While giant creatures and monsters are common today with CGI, Harryhausen was a pioneer in brining such fantastic beasts to the big screen.

Jason and the Argonauts is perhaps Harryhausen’s best-known work, bringing the story of the Golden Fleece to the big screen in 1963. The stop-motion work is transfixing. The movie is slow-paced by today’s standards, but still rewarding. If you can’t make it through the whole movie, you should at least check out the Argonauts sword battle with a league of skeleton warriors. It’s classic.