FUBAR Review: Arnold Schwarzenegger's Netflix Series Is A Watered-Down True Lies

It's easy to love Arnold Schwarzenegger (as an actor; let's just ignore his spotty political career and questionable personal issues for the sake of this review, shall we?). While no one would claim the Austrian Oak was an acting great with the range to slip in and out of any character, there's always been a distinct, lovable charm to Arnold. Despite his hulking, muscular frame, there's something downright cuddly about the body builder-turned-actor. We want to give him a hug, even when he's firing huge weapons at nameless bad guys.

While he occasionally plays cruel killers — see the first "Terminator" — he thrives in roles that let him have fun — see the second "Terminator." We can't help but love the guy, with his huge biceps, his thick accent, and the mischievous little twinkle he always has in his eye. When he utters the phrase "Trust me" with a sly little smile in "Terminator 2: Judgement Day," we do trust him. How can we not? He's Arnold!

All of this is to say that having Schwarzenegger return to acting is an exciting prospect, at least in theory. But "FUBAR," Schwarzenegger's first foray into leading a TV series, strains to justify itself. It's an overlong, undercooked series that makes good use of Arnold but still flounders. If there's one reason to watch this, it's to watch Schwarzenegger do his thing, and while the actor still has that magic quality that made him a star, "FUBAR" does not match him. Which I suppose makes it par for the course for the later half of Schwarzenegger's career, which has some interesting entries — like the slow-burn zombie flick "Maggie" — but has never been able to compare to the golden age of the performer's career.

Family matters

In "FUBAR," Arnold is Luke Brunner, a 65-year-old CIA agent (Schwarzenegger is actually 75, but hey, he looks great and he looks like he can still kick everyone's ass, so let's let him be 65) on the cusp of retirement. Luke's secret life in the CIA took a toll — he's divorced, and he badly wants to reconcile things with his ex Tally (Fabiana Udenio). Luke has spent his entire career lying to the people he cares about, including his daughter, Emma (Monica Barbaro). Now, he figures it's time to set things right.

But you know how these things go. "One last job" pops up that Luke cannot refuse — the fate of the entire world is at stake. He also has a personal connection: years ago, he killed a criminal and then took it upon himself to provide for the bad guy's son, Boro. Now, Boro is an adult (played by Gabriel Luna, who co-starred with Schwarzenegger in "Terminator: Dark Fate"), and following in his father's footsteps. It seems Boro has gotten his hands on a portable WMD, and that's bad news for everybody. Boro has no idea that Luke killed his dad — he just sees the man as his benefactor. The agency figures Luke can go back undercover, use his relationship with Borro to get close, and then retrieve the weapon. 

But ... you know how these things go. The job isn't going to be that simple, especially because while on his mission, Luke sees an unlikely face: Emma. Yes, as it turns out, Emma is also a CIA agent. Neither of them had any idea about the other, despite the fact that they work for the same agency out of what looks like the same office building (how did they never run into each other?). Now, in true "buddy cop" fashion, Luke and Emma are forced to team up and work together, something that won't be easy since both of them are pretty ticked off about being lied to for all these years

True Lies Lite

Needless to say, these two very different people soon learn that they're very much alike. They also learn to work together, something that's extra difficult for Luke, who still sees the capable, ass-kicking Emma as his little girl. As for Emma, she's bitter that her father lied to her mother for so many years, but she's in the middle of doing something similar — lying to her nerdy, well-meaning boyfriend Carter (Jay Baruchel).

Created by Nick Santora, whose credits include "The Sopranos," "Reacher," and "Punisher: War Zone," "FUBAR" badly wants to remind you of another Schwarzenegger vehicle: James Cameron's 1994 action extravaganza "True Lies." To be fair, a lot of the politics of "True Lies" — gender, political, religious, and otherwise — have aged like milk. But if you can overlook that and accept it as a film of its time, you'll find an uber-entertaining, ultra-stylish action pic with Schwarzenegger in top form as a CIA agent forced to work with his previously-clueless wife (Jamie Lee Curtis).

The set-up here is basically the same, with a daughter standing in for a wife. But "FUBAR" breaks a cardinal entertainment rule here: don't spend your entire project reminding us of something much better, because we're just going to want to turn this off and watch that instead. Case in point: as "FUBAR" unfolded with insurance company commercial-style cinematography, unleashed tepid action, and dished out one flat joke after another, I found myself wishing I was watching "True Lies" (it's currently streaming on Tubi, for free but with commercials, if you're interested). "FUBAR" is "True Lies" Lite, a watered-down version of something much better.

Quips in the face of death

Watching Arnold do his thing again is fun, and the actor garners big laughs in how he reacts around his daughter — there's a genuinely funny moment where Luke accidentally discovers, and turns on, Emma's vibrator, resulting in Schwarzenegger looking downright horrified. But the show also assumes we'll want to know more about Luke and Emma's fellow CIA agents — and we don't. None of them are particularly interesting, although Fortune Feimster does garner laughs as the wise-cracking member of the team. As for Barbaro, she's never very convincing, and the bickering between her and Schwarzenegger, intended to be funny, never really lands. 

Interestingly enough, there's a touch of nihilistic darkness lurking under the show's light exterior — characters brutally murder henchmen while cracking jokes to each other. The inciting incident of the mission — that Arnold killed a guy's father and then took over the job of raising him — is dark as hell. Ditto a scene, played for laughs, where a character is tortured for his bone marrow. Quips in the face of death are an action-movie staple, but they come across as extra bleak here, and the fact that the show never wants to delve into the psychology of it all feels ill-advised. At the very least, examining these things would make "FUBAR" more interesting. 

And yet, I can't deny that there's a certain fun to be had watching Arnold back in the saddle. This is, without doubt, one of his lesser works, but he's still front and center, and those of us who grew up loving his action movie antics will likely find sporadic enjoyment here and there. But once you burn through the overlong eight-episode season (probably could've been done in five, just saying), don't be surprised if you want to fire up "True Lies" to wash the lackluster taste out of your mouth.

"Fubar" is now streaming on Netflix.