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FUBAR Review: Commandon't

  • Arnold is back in action hero mode
  • Scott Thompson shines in a small role
  • Tom Arnold, Adam Pally in fun cameos
  • Supporting cast are all written with the same cloying, smart-alecky voice
  • Plot twists can be spotted a mile away
  • Action scenes are generic, CGI-aided nothing burgers

Now that Arnold Schwarzenegger is in his mid-70s, we can all admit it. He was never a great actor; he was just the largest larger-than-life one. He was never funny; his accent made phrases like "hasta la vista, baby" inherently hilarious. He was never easy to identify with; he was the ultimate '80s avatar, a living action figure whose muscles were the ultimate Hollywood prop. Although some may have found him "sexy," he was never a sex symbol on par with Robert Redford or Brad Pitt.

But Schwarzenegger was smart, and he was hard-working. A master of self-promotion, he played the movie star role bigger and better than any peer (sorry Stallone), and consistently attached himself to good directors, good scripts, and franchises that reinforced his brand. It's appropriate that one of his last great films was "The Last Action Hero," because no matter how hard others might come for the crown, there will never be another Arnold.

All of which makes any attempt at a late-career comeback more difficult than most. Burt Reynolds had "Boogie Nights," Paul Newman had "The Color of Money," Don Ameche had "Cocoon," Henry Fonda had "On Golden Pond," Jack Palance had "City Slickers." Those were all brilliantly-written, showy roles in great projects — but what happens when your wannabe-comebacking golden oldie is famous for playing a thinly-veiled version of himself as an action hero, and is now too old to believably play that? Well, you get "FUBAR."

Imagine a show that makes Schwarzenegger ten years younger (then still teases him for being too old), sparingly doles out action scenes where he's jumping from car-to-car and dodging bullets like it's 1985, and surrounds him with a bunch of younger actors who all talk in the same "Scrubs"-like self-aware, there-are-no-real-stakes, pop culture-spewing, smart-alecky, overwritten voice. Fill it with plotlines forecast well in advance, oddly intrusive background music that sounds like it belongs in a '90s "TGIF" show, and lots of green screen-backed, CGI-fires-burning falsities. There, you just saved yourself from having to watch eight episodes of "FUBAR," as were provided for this review.

But damnit, there is one X factor that needs to be mentioned: Arnold is a star. Whatever "it" is, he's always had it, and he remains nothing less than eminently watchable. If you agree with that statement, you'll likely find "FUBAR" to be a serviceable distraction worthy of watching and then forgetting within moments of its images flickering across your retinas. If you don't, well, why would you even consider watching this lightweight Netflix series in the first place?

Wasting away again in mediocre-ville

"FUBAR" opens on Arnold Schwarzenegger's Luke Brunner during a CIA mission, smoking a cigar and setting fire to an alley as The Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" helps light the fuse. With slo-mo shots, fast cars, and Arnold making the rare move of speaking in his native German, it's a glimpse at the gritty, outside-the-box series this could've been — sort of like Sylvester Stallone's far-more-interesting "Tulsa King." Savor those opening moments, because Luke then begins chatting with the first man in the van.

Do you remember in "True Lies," when Tom Arnold so memorably ranted about being stuck in the van all the time? Well, one of the most cloying elements of "FUBAR" is that it tries to replicate those story beats with at least three, sometimes even more characters. There's Barry (played by Milan Carter), who quite literally uses every scene to remind the viewers that he's a "nerd," reinforced by the classic "Big Bang Theory" move of simply putting him in an array of superhero t-shirts. There's Roo (Fortune Feimster), a surly agent not nearly as amusing as the series wants her to be. Playing Faceman to Roo's B.A. Baracus is Aldon (Travis Van Winkle), a quasi-used car salesman who sleeps with an endless array of marks because he was bullied as a child. All these people — along with their boss Dot (Barbara Eve Harris) and rookie agent Tina (Aparna Brielle) — serve as near-omniscient voices in Luke's head on most missions, commenting and directing and occasionally venturing out into the field. It's crazy how there's never any interference or lack of broadcast signal as the team navigates villainous strongholds, speeding trains, Turkish prisons and other remote locations around the world, all the while carrying on exposition-illuminating conversations like they're all in the same room.

But the central conflict in "FUBAR" arrives via Emma (a milquetoast Monica Barbaro), Luke's distanced daughter who — surprise! — the soon-to-retire jet-setting adventurer discovers is similarly a CIA agent who has been lying to their oblivious family members. She has a potential fiancé (Jay Baruchel, fully leaning into his stuttering Christian Slater thing), but as her father is quick to point out, her deceptions could lead them down the same doomed path Luke found with her mother (Fabiana Udenio), who Luke is currently trying to win back — while still lying to her.

Thrown into the mix, of course, is a villain (Gabriel Luna) with an endless supply of henchmen, an (unintentionally hilarious) room full of energy drink-swigging computer hackers, and a plot to bring the world to its knees. "When I sell my weapon, the most dangerous and most easily-concealed weapon on Earth," he snarls, "the world will know I am a man to be reckoned with!" Gee, I wonder how that's going to work out for him?

Master of puppets

The best part of "FUBAR" is simply seeing Arnold back in action. True movie stars are going the way of the dodo, and even if this isn't technically a movie, watching Schwarzenegger drive over a guy and deadpan, "Oh, he feels a little run-down," is as comforting as mom's meatloaf. Oddly enough, the next-best part is "The Kids in the Hall" vet Scott Thompson, probably 10th on the call sheet, playing what could have been the thankless role of Dr. Pfeffer, therapist for the group. The character, who the others mockingly dismiss as "Dr. Pepper," is very funny and has some poignant moments late in the season. Adam Pally and Tom Arnold himself have amusing cameos, and Episode 8 is far and away the best of the season, leaving things on a cliffhanger that makes a Season 2 feel more promising than what came before it. Oh, Arnold also gets to say "choppa" twice, which is like gravy on top of that meatloaf.

But what lingers like a warm fart is Milan Carter, dropping mandatory-feeling references to "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" in every scene, while being a handsome, fit actor who looks like he's never once licked the Cheetos powder off his fingers. Fortune Feimster, ranting about not being able to wear flip-flops because she's missing a toe, in a quote-unquote "funny" moment that feels like they forgot to add the laugh track. Subplots involving rival fitness equipment salesmen (competitors to Brunner's phony cover job) and leukemia-stricken family members are hurriedly introduced and abandoned, and one episode even traps the characters in a room so they can talk out their emotions, much like old sitcoms would do in meat lockers or elevators.

Perhaps that's the most troublesome aspect of "FUBAR": It's a new show, starring an old action star, that thinks it has all the virtues of modern "Golden Age" prestige TV, but is really just a collection of old "A-Team," "Big Bang Theory," and "Family Matters" clichés. Frankly, the last action hero deserves better.