An amiable dance-infused rom-com that dazzles and charms despite missing a step or two.
Nick Frost, best known as Simon Pegg’s tubby partner in crime in the “Cornetto Trilogy” (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End), casts his own shadow in Cuban Fury, an amiable dance-infused rom-com that dazzles and charms despite missing a step or two. The film is far from forgettable though, as Frost has the balls to execute virtually every on-screen dance move himself, sometimes to breathtaking results. He carries the torch of romantic leading man well as Bruce Garrett, a faded teenage salsa prodigy who reignites his passion for dance in hopes of sweeping his dream girl (Rashida Jones) off her feet.
Directed by James Griffiths, the zero-to-hero tale begins with a young Bruce, in his prime as a salsa champion, pushed out of the world of dance by his peers after a bullying altercation. He hangs up his dancing shoes and extinguishes his burning passion for salsa himself, screaming to his mentor Ron Parfitt (Ian McShane) that “Salsa is for pussies!” Jump to twenty five years later, and Bruce, now an industrial engineer, is still playing doormat to bullies, particularly his crass, relentlessly narcissistic co-worker Drew (Chris O’Dowd).
He’s shed all of the confidence he once exuded on the dance floor, now a fat, pushover pencil-pusher whose all but given up on romantic endeavors. Enter his new boss Julia (Jones), a pretty American who loves dancing salsa (what a coincidence!) and catches the eye of both Bruce and his skinny nemesis Drew. Bruce, a shell of his former flashy-shirt-wearing self, tracks down aging hard-ass Ron to help him reclaim his former glory and get his husky hips gyrating again.
Frost has always been likable as a goofy dunderhead, but he shows range here as the mild-mannered Bruce. He’s an utterly convincing romantic lead and sweet chemistry with Jones. He lets his co-stars shine as the comedic standouts, with O’Dowd firing on all cylinders, being as vulgar and despicable as possible as delusional ladies-man Drew. Stealing the show handily however is Kayvan Novak, who plays the fiery Bejan, one of Bruce’s muscly dance buddies. The effervescent Novak could have easily been written off as a rote gay stereotype, but he manages to conjure some genuine tenderness in his scenes with Frost (a hilarious head-to-toe makeover scene comes to mind). McShane’s talents aren’t squandered, but they’re not even close to being fully utilized.
The film’s biggest issue is that one of the three sides of the love triangle is woefully weak. We’re meant to fear that Julia could possibly end up with Drew, but O’Dowd is too obnoxious and off-putting to ever come across as a threat. Julia clearly has warm affection for Bruce and clearly has zero attraction to Drew. There’s absolutely nothing about her character that suggests a Julia-Drew romance is ever even remotely in the cards. Nothing. This lack of any real threat dampens any sense of urgency in Bruce’s pursuit, though Griffiths tries really hard to sell us on it.
The real joy of the film are the dance sequences, all of which don’t hide the fact that Frost is actually pulling the moves off himself. They don’t highlight this fact either, however, as Griffiths’ camera cuts too much to allow us to take in the full routines. Frost doesn’t move like a pro exactly, but damned if he doesn’t come closer than anyone would have thought. Helping him look good is the bright costuming by Rosa Dias, which adorns the big man with sequins, shiny shoes, and form-fitting silk shirts. The choreography by Richard Marcel is spectacular and pushes Frost to the limit, and a slapstick car-park dance-off between Bruce and Drew, which garners big laughs, is surprisingly thrilling and well thought-out. Despite the romantic element’s failure to launch, Cuban Fury is solid entertainment, will put smiles on faces, and announces Frost as a viable leading man.