This time last year, the big Valentine’s date movie was A Good Day To Die Hard. Next year, it’s Fifty Shades Of Grey. Cuban Fury, therefore – which is this year’s – feels like something of a blessing.
The film centres on Nick Frost (who also executive produces). He plays Bruce, a man who used to live for salsa, until he was beaten up as a young boy for wearing too many sequins. His dreary routine is forced to change step, though, when a beautiful new boss arrives at his office: Julia (Rashida Jones). She loves to salsa too. And so Bruce decides to put his dancing shoes back on and shimmy his way into her heart. The only thing in his way? Drew, his pervy male co-worker, who has his own (ahem) dance moves he wants to try on her.
There are no prizes for guessing what happens next and that is Cuban Fury‘s main problem: for all its flair on the floor (and it has plenty) and its message to let go and express yourself, it never feels original, or even that funny – a shame, given that writer Jon Brown also worked on BBC Three’s Mongrels, which was both.
The cast are all clearly game to shake their stuff: Olivia Colman has a whale of a time as Bruce’s encouraging, cocktail-serving sister, Sam, and Ian McShane wears his best sarcasm heels as Bruce’s former mentor, Ron. The always excellent Rory Kinnear, meanwhile, tries to make the most of his role as Bruce’s token sceptical, straight best friend. The supporting cast, though, is a predictable array of character types. Even the fantastic Rashida Jones is given little to do as Bruce’s love interest, other than be lovely and like salsa.
With sporadic laughs served up by a familiar ensemble, it falls to Chris O’Dowd and Kayvan Novak (Four Lions‘ Waj) to put the fire in your funny bone. O’Dowd is enjoyably leery as Bruce’s despicable caveman colleague, while Novak is so over-the-top as Dejan, a flamboyant, camp, homosexual dancer, that he manages to be both annoying and amusing at the same time. (Which one wins out will depend on your fondness for ball waxing jokes and still Fanta.)
The undisputed lord of the dance, though, is Nick Frost. Given the chance to lead, he proves he has the likeable charm to carry a plot single-handed and the determination to learn how to dance – and dance well. The film was based on his idea, but busy both acting and exec-producing, Frost entrusted the premise to Brown to turn into a screenplay. The result is a disappointingly generic sports-rom-com populated by shallow people, which offers audiences little to engage with; no matter how much you like its star, it takes two to tango. Any goodwill you do have towards our hero is, crucially, aimed at Nick rather than Bruce. By the time he’s getting jiggy with it, you’re willing Frost to succeed, not cheering for the hero to get off with Julia.
There are moments when the production hits all the right beats – a dance-off in a car park between Bruce and Drew is an impressively silly display of choreography that director James Griffiths shoots with energy – but the rest is a string of missteps masked only by the sequin-covered sass of its performers. It’s not bad, and it’s a mile better than Die Hard 5. But it still feels a little less than it should be.
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