Arnold Schwarzenegger goes back to the True Lies well—replete with a Tom Arnold cameo!—with FUBAR (out May 25 on Netflix), playing a famed super-spy whose time and energy are split between fighting international terrorists and keeping his job a secret from his family.
The twist, as it were, is that this time around, he also has a daughter who he learns is in his line of work! Premises don’t come much more hackneyed than this, nor more sluggishly executed. As a gun-shooting, cigar-smoking hero, the action-movie legend remains as charismatic as ever. His first foray into television, however, is a sitcom-grade mission that’s all-too-possible to turn down.
Schwarzenegger is Luke Brunner, a decorated CIA agent who’s on the cusp of retirement. Luke is eager to turn in his pistol, say farewell to his comrades, and concentrate on winning back his ex-wife Tally (Austin Powers’ Fabiana Udenio), who left him 15 years earlier due to his constant absences—the byproduct of his clandestine career, which he hid from everyone, pretending instead to be a gym equipment salesman alongside his partner in espionage, Barry (Milan Carter).
Yet before he can start rejuvenating his marriage, Luke is recruited by CIA director Dot (Barbara Eve Harris) to complete one last undertaking: neutralize an arms dealer named Boro (The Last of Us’ Gabriel Luna), with whom he shares a special connection. It turns out Luke killed Boro’s father and then vainly attempted to keep Boro on the straight and narrow by serving as his anonymous benefactor.
Boro’s evil plot is to sell a portable suitcase nuke to other baddies, and since he knows Luke (under an old alias), he gladly welcomes Schwarzenegger’s protagonist onto his base. What Luke finds there aren’t just mercenaries, though, but his daughter Emma (Top Gun: Maverick’s Monica Barbaro), who had claimed to be employed by an NGO.
Both are predictably mad at the other for a lifetime’s worth of lies about who they are and what they do, and if those deceptions aren’t enough to bond them as kindred spirits, their habit of prioritizing work ahead of loved ones more than underscores their similarities—especially since Emma is in a committed relationship to dorky elementary school teacher Carter (Jay Baruchel), who has no clue that his girlfriend is an Atomic Blonde-grade ass-kicker.
Created by Nick Santora, FUBAR is the story of a father-daughter pair that won’t stop bickering while trying to save the world, its every episode marked by Emma blaming Luke for being a bum dad and Luke countering by first criticizing her taste in men (i.e. the wimpy Carter), and then censuring her for lying to him when her heart (and libido) begin to wander.
After approximately 10 minutes of such argumentation, they’ve said all there is to say about their intertwined situations, and yet the series refuses to move past its central conflict. By its third episode, FUBAR is already skipping like a horribly scratched record, having its two leads rehash their bedrock gripes to brain-numbingly unrewarding ends. Will they figure out that they’re really the same, and learn to work together? Of course—but it’ll take eight hours of leaden quarreling to get there.
There’s more to FUBAR than just Schwarzenegger and Barbaro’s contentiousness—although it’s just as dreary. Emma soon must collaborate with not only Luke but his team, a collection of colorful types designed to lend the material some amusing personality. Barry is a wishy-washy sidekick who loves all things nerdy and can’t stop making easy pop culture references (Harry Potter, Han Solo, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Back to the Future Part II).
Somehow, newbie Tina (Aparna Brielle) has eyes for Barry, which is so ridiculous that it immediately resonates as a red flag. Aldon (Travis Van Winkle) is the hunky operative whose main skill is wooing women with his sexual charms. His best friend Roo (Fortune Feimster), meanwhile, is the wisecracker of the group, as well as another character with lingering daddy issues—an element that’s almost as dreary as her one-liners.
There’s plenty of action in FUBAR, but it’s of an amateurish sort, and lowlighted by the show’s directors shooting and cutting around the fact that the 75-year-old Schwarzenegger doesn’t move like he used to—or, for that matter, much at all. The star’s conspicuous lack of athleticism is a drain on the proceedings’ adrenaline, and so too is PG-rated choreography that’s torn between striving for excitement and humor.
Neither are in great supply throughout these eight installments, which find Luke and his compatriots driving runaway bullet trains, breaking into Turkish prisons, and (in the most arbitrarily squishy subplot) torturing civilians in order to save Luke’s ill granddaughter. Drawn-out and devoid of laughs, these assignments simply provide further opportunities for Luke and Emma to butt heads—and, also, for everyone else to get mad at each other as their personal and professional lives clash.
Despite Schwarzenegger’s still-robust magnetism, FUBAR is beneath its headliner, awash as it is in simplistic parent-child and work-life issues that never manage to offset their conventionality with wittiness.
Schwarzenegger repeatedly saying the word “chopper” and quoting Throw Momma from the Train (because he loves its—and his Twins—co-star Danny DeVito) is emblematic of the show’s lazy approach to comedy, and having Luke refer to his CIA-mandated therapist Dr. Pfeffer (Scott Thompson) as “Dr. Pepper,” and not know what the word “cuckold” really means, doesn’t help. Even its inappropriateness feels strained and half-hearted, epitomized by a gag about Roo’s mangled foot that’s undercut by the series’ unwillingness to show us the grotesquerie in question.
Without Schwarzenegger’s participation, FUBAR wouldn’t exist; its writing is too unoriginal and corny, and its direction too flat and tame, to survive on its own. That the Hollywood titan viewed this Netflix venture as a way to have fun with—and simultaneously reaffirm—his action-man reputation is clear from the story’s celebration of him as a peerless villain-battering badass. Anyone interested in understanding why Schwarzenegger is one of his era’s icons, however, would be better off checking out the ’80s and ’90s classics that truly defined his on-screen legacy.
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