It is painful for a parent to realise that their darling daughter has grown up into a foul-mouthed, substance-abusing brawler. So Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t exactly pleased when it happens to him in this unstoppably daft hokum.
When Schwarzenegger – AKA undercover CIA agent Luke Brunner – arrives at the baddies’ lair in Guyana for his final mission, there is unpleasantness going on in a makeshift boxing ring. As he approaches, he realises that one of them is a woman. And not just any woman, but one so complacent in her sense of imminent victory that she is smoking a cigarette mid-bout.
He has, he realises, seen that woman before. But where?
We cut to Arnie in closeup, as unreadably impassive as that moment 40-odd years ago when, having arrived from elsewhere on the space-time continuum, he stood butt-naked before a red-necked yokel and said: “I need your clothes, your boots and your motorcycle.”
We cut back to the smoking woman whose thighs are by now pinning her foe in a chokehold. “How’s my ass taste, bitch?” she asks, hopefully rhetorically.
Brunner has heard that voice before. Of course! It’s his daughter, Emma, whom he thought was a straight-A student and accomplished violinist who spent downtime being geeky with her twee fiance. Instead, she seems to enjoy developing muscles that could break not just walnuts but a henchman’s neck.
Their eyes meet. Both look furious: he, because of her cussing; she, because she is a government agent and this old fart is going to blow her cover. But there is probably also another reason for their wrath: both realise how much family therapy is in their future.
Fubar is as high concept as Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, Mr & Mrs Smith or Meghan and Harry’s Netflix series. Like those, it involves an unlikely pair who have to battle some pretty ripe MacGuffin while working out their issues. Essentially, Brunner should have been raising his daughter instead of spending the past 40 years making America (stand and salute if you aren’t already) yet more full of itself, a lifestyle choice that cost him his marriage and meaningful relationship with his offspring.
Both have been concealing from the other that they were agents. Now they must not only deal with their baggage, but retrieve a suitcase containing WMD with which a high-IQ paranoid megalomaniac with daddy issues intends – yawn – to hold the world to ransom.
But surely, you ask, isn’t Arnie too old to be in the field despite the overwhelming gerontocratic nature of recent US presidents suggesting oldsters can do anything? That’s a good point or it would be, but for the fact that Schwarzenegger has for decades specialised in playing buff assets near the end of their shelf lives. In Terminator 2, after losing his arm and most of his face in a fight with a superior model, he allowed something like human emotion to overcome his cyborg circuitry, adding sadly: “I need a vacation.” Here, he is at the end of his tenure, dreaming of reuniting with his wife and taking her for a world tour on his predictable sounding tragic-bloke-retirement-boat. Instead, he is roped into that most venerable trope: the old hand who has his retirement cake snatched from him to do One Last Job.
Yet again, Schwarzenegger shows the viewer that he is chiefly a comedian. Hence Twins with Danny DeVito, Kindergarten Cop and now this. Only those who failed to realise this truth cast him in straight roles such as Conan the Barbarian or California’s governor, lead parts that have seen him come unstuck.
The backstory doesn’t make a lick of sense. We are to believe that, years ago, Arnie bumped off the current whacko’s dad, paying for the fatherless lad’s expensive education, and yet the boy grew up to become even more evil than his father. Perhaps, Fubar is intended as an allegory of CIA incompetence, showing that the agency starts as many fires as it puts out. If that’s true, then better that the CIA be wound down and the world’s megalomaniacs go about their business.
Only one problem. For years I’ve been undecided as to whether Bruce Forsyth or Arnold Schwarzenegger is the catchphrase king. Arnie offers the call and response of “Nice to see you! To see you nice!” while Brucie’s “Hasta la vista, baby,” was recently repurposed by our useless last-but-two prime minister before he was terminated, too. Or maybe it was the other way round.
Here, sad to report, Arnie’s catchphrase is the following: “That’s it, and that’s all.” He repeats it endlessly, though why is beyond me. When all those years ago he said, “I’ll be back”, I had hoped for something better.
• Fubar is on Netflix