Review by Brian Lowry, CNN
(CNN) — Arnold Schwarzenegger makes the natural progression from movie star to California governor to Netflix series with “Fubar,” which is basically a father-daughter version of his 1994 James Cameron movie “True Lies.” Marking the star’s series debut, it’s a slim idea stretched over eight parts (and possibly more), and with apologies to its military acronym, feels fouled up in mostly recognizable ways.
Here, father and daughter have both been concealing secret lives, a la “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” before being forced to team up by the CIA. Schwarzenegger’s Luke Brunner is actually on the verge of retirement when he discovers his daughter Emma (“Top Gun: Maverick’s” Monica Barbaro) was recruited years earlier, prompting him to delay his plans to pursue a quieter life and win back his ex and her mother (Fabiana Udenio), after years of lying took a toll on their relationship.
Emma is rather awkwardly walking a mile in in dad’s shoes on that front, dating the nerdy and clueless Carter (Jay Baruchel), who seems to ground her, although there is the little matter of all those bad boys with whom she interacts in her secret day job.
Executive produced by Nick Santora (“Reacher”) and Schwarzenegger, among others, the series takes advantage of Schwarzenegger’s inherent likability and gift for dropping sly one-liners while engaging in acts of violence (see “Commando”). Barbaro more than holds her own as an arresting super-spy – at least, when she isn’t squabbling with dad.
Still, there’s a nagging been-there quality to almost every beat of the show, not helped by the jokey nature of the banter among members of their crack team, which includes his office-bound wingman (Milan Carter), who Emma grew up calling Uncle Barry.
In a way, streaming has become the logical stop for marquee movie stars once they reach a certain age, as evidenced by the Taylor Sheridan-produced dramas spawned by “Yellowstone,” a stable that has attracted fellow tough-guys emeritus Sam Elliott, Harrison Ford and Sylvester Stallone. Schwarzenegger is such a good fit for attention-hungry Netflix that the service has also commissioned a docuseries about him, “Arnold,” which will premiere in June.
The existence of that second project, however, merely underscores the sense that “Fubar” isn’t bad as much as it’s just plain tired – an eight-hour “You might like” button for anyone who has recently consumed a movie from the star’s heyday.
Notably, a CBS reboot of “True Lies” was just canceled, though the combination of Schwarzenegger and similar material in the less ratings-pressurized confines of streaming should be more hospitable. With its cliffhanging episodes, this show gamely tries to pull viewers along, but the highlights primarily tend to come in its smaller moments, courtesy of Schwarzenegger and Barbaro, rather than the otherwise-generic plot.
As the title suggests, “Fubar” doesn’t take itself too seriously; still, if Schwarzenegger had to “be back,” to quote a certain relentless cyborg, it’s easy to wish the encore had come in something bit more inspired than this.
“Fubar” premieres May 25 on Netflix.
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