Arnie's chops appear to have vanished in his first release since being minted as Netflix's "Chief Action Officer."
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I didn’t have particularly high (or really any) expectations for FUBAR. When it was announced, I was excited at the prospect of a new, tongue-in-cheek action series starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, but I didn’t really pay much attention to the marketing ahead of its release. I just thought ol’ Arnie doing his thing in a new format had potential to be a fun time.
The one thing that had me jazzed was the involvement of Nick Santora, showrunner and producer of Prime Video’s Reacher series, which struck the perfect balance of macho action and winking charm. Santora returns in the same capacity in FUBAR, and it’s reasonable to assume he’d approach the opportunity to develop a project with Schwarzenegger with the same respect and aplomb as he did for Lee Childs’ Jack Reacher novels.
However, it’s as if a totally different person is running the show. Whatever it was that Santora brought to Reacher, he forgot it at home when he went in to the office to come up with FUBAR.
In fact, it’s as if totally different people are writing the show too. But this is not the case. Almost every name credited as a writer on Reacher returns here, in varying capacities, as well as director Stephen Surjik, who did an episode of Reacher and does two on FUBAR.
Gone are the confident, blistering one-liners and brutal action; in their places are first-draft dialogue, stale delivery, and CW-level production quality. Frankly, there’s no other way to put it, for all involved, than “embarrassing.”
This is technically only a review of the first four episodes (there are eight in total). However, this will also be the only review I publish on the matter, as the first half has made me unwilling to stick it out to the end. Maybe it pulls a 180 at the midpoint, but I really can’t be bothered.
Keep in mind: these are hour-long episodes. If an eight-episode series can’t sell you in half its runtime—what amounts to two average-length feature films—it doesn’t deserve your completion. We all have better things to do.
Schwarzenegger plays Luke Brunner, a CIA operative at the end of a long and well-decorated career. He’s looking forward to retirement, as it will allow him to spend more time with his daughter Emma (Monica Barbaro) and, he hopes, help him patch things up with his ex-wife Tally (Fabiana Udenio). After all, it was the job that prevented him from being the husband he wanted to be when it counted, right?
Luke is forced to put his rosy hopes for retirement aside when the old “one last job” hook comes a-calling. What he doesn’t know is that his daughter, who he thinks is an activist providing clean water to Colombia, has been assigned to the job as well. Turns out Emma has been following in her father’s espionage footsteps, unbeknownst to both of them. Now it’s a matter of putting their freshly, mutually broken trust aside and working together as equals. Easier said than done, as one might expect.
What ensues is bog-standard father-daughter comedy fare that hits only the most familiar beats, in between sheepish reminders that this is meant to be an action series. Most of the violence happens off-screen, and what we do see is mind-numbingly uninventive.
I never thought I’d see movie or show wherein Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Last Action Hero himself, would look as if he’s never held a gun in his life. His bent-wrist, point-and-click trigger pulls look more like a teacher fiddling with a PowerPoint presentation than a seasoned action star playing a CIA operative. Barbaro fares slightly better, able to move more quickly and fluidly during setpieces, but she’s also let down by unexciting, amateurish choreography and bad editing.
Most of the shootouts consist of our heroes blindly firing out of frame, without so much as a satisfying reaction shot of a henchman taking lead. When there’s meant to be a “badass” moment, we get slow-motion footage of a first-karate-lesson maneuver or Arnie lighting up a cigar.
Because the action brings less than nothing to the table, we’re left with the story and character dynamics, which are, admittedly, more interesting, if only by comparison. Fortune Feimster and Milan Carter play Roo and Barry, fellow agents and coworkers of Luke’s who assist on most of his missions. They’re the comic relief, and both do commendable jobs in trying to fill the role, but like the action, the jokes leave a lot to be desired.
They are, at the very least, more entertaining than the rote family drama at play between Luke and Emma, which reminded me of the stuff you’d find in a mid-2000s teen movie starring a Disney Channel actor in their feature film debut. (That may ring as an endorsement to the right reader, and that’s fine; just not my thing.)
The Disney-adjacent tone is also strange given the subject matter at hand. There’s plenty of killing (though much of it sanitized), and sexual tension abounds between Emma and her coworker Aldon (Travis Van Winkle, who I actually quite liked). For one mission, Emma has to strip down and seduce a target for information. People are executed by headshot and there’s plenty of talk about sex and virginity.
I’m not one to balk at violence or sex in media, but its steady presence throughout this series, in light of its cutesy daddy-daughter central dynamic and puerile dialogue, raises the question of who FUBAR is for. Action nuts will not only be let down by the cheap setpieces, but likely turned off by shmaltzy home-life drama. Fans of Netflix’s other coming-of-age and family-comedy content will probably question why that’s being paused for bland spy stuff. I’d venture to guess that those who are actually impressed by the terrible script and hackneyed humor would find the more “adult” elements of the show too racy for them.
At the halfway point, FUBAR is a waste of space, and I’m fairly confident it won’t turn around from here. Even if it does, I’m not sure I care. Heck of a first outing for Schwarzenegger since being named Netflix’s “Chief Action Officer,” which, after seeing this, bodes well for neither party.