Nick Frost's latest film doesn't have the jokes to back up the fancy footwork
The pitch must have taken all of five seconds - Nick Frost dances salsa.Unfortunately, as is often the case, you need more than a funny premise to sustain an entire story. For a film about fancy footwork, Cuban Fury is surprisingly flat on its feet. The problem is that despite the likability of its cast, the jokes just aren’t good enough. The idea of an overweight Nick Frost dancing salsa is fine and he has a real gift for physical comedy but it’s never a good sign when you only laugh a couple of times in the course of a ninety eight minute movie.
Nick Frost plays Bruce Garrett a former teen salsa champion who has long since hung up his sequinned shirt and now works as an engineer, designing lathes. However when he discovers that his attractive new boss Julia (Rashida Jones) is a fan of salsa dancing, Bruce’s interest is reignited and he tries to rediscover his passion for dance. As a result he seeks the help of his former dance instructor, Ron, played by Ian McShane, who still holds a grudge after all these years.
That’s the entire plot and to say that it’s predictable would be an understatement. So given the lack of story, the film itself has to depend on the talents of its cast and the quality of its jokes. In terms of its cast, Cuban Fury has a lot going for it, with Nick Frost delivering a perfectly good performance as Bruce. Rashida Jones, daughter of Quincey, is suitably cute as Julia and Olivia Coleman is great as Bruce’s sister Sam. It’s nice to see Coleman in a pure comedy role, just laughing and having fun for a change after some some fairly heavy performances of late. Ian McShane is also fine in the role of the grumpy mentor, whilst Rory Kinnear is largely wasted in the part of Bruce’s best friend Gary.
It takes more than the sight of Nick Frost in a pair of Cuban heels, to carry a story for an entire film.
Kayvan Novak, the really stupid terrorist in Four Lions, camps it up in every scene he’s in as fellow salsa enthusiast Bejan and nearly steals the film. However it’s probably with Chris O’Dowd’s character of Drew that the film has a serious casting misstep. First of all the likeable O’Dowd is really playing against type as the truly obnoxious Drew. That wouldn’t be so bad but some of the things he says are pretty unpleasant and just felt out of place within the rest of the film; as a result his character just comes across as both rude and deeply sexist. You're meant to dislike the villain in a romantic comedy, not be disgusted by him or her.
A talented cast like this could certainly have carried a better script but sadly they’re let down by some incredibly predictable plotting and a general lack of decent jokes. The sight of Nick Frost in a pair of Cuban heels can only sustain so many laughs before the joke trips over its own feet and falls flat on its face. There just isn’t enough witty banter or clever gags to carry ninety eight minutes of screen time and, as a result, the film feels like an episode of a TV comedy series stretched across an entire feature film. What jokes there are are also inconsistent in tone and, for what is quite a sweet film at heart, there's a lot of largely unnecessary swearing.
For a film about fancy footwork, the comedy is surprisingly flat on its feet.
The film is based on an idea by Frost, himself, so at least we know who to blame, and written by Jon Brown who has a background in TV comedy series like Fresh Meat and Miranda, which would explain the uneven tone. This sense of Cuban Fury being nothing more than a glorified TV movie, isn’t helped by some very leaden direction from James Griffiths, best known for helping episodes of Episodes. Despite being shot in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the pacing and framing lack any imagination or artistry and as such the whole venture never escapes its TV comedy roots. The one thing that is handled well is the dancing, with Frost, Jones and Coleman all giving their best and being doubled very effectively for the more complex moves.
In the end, Cuban Fury feels like something of a wasted opportunity and despite really wanting to like it and be entertained by the film, it simply failed to deliver the laughs. Not even a very brief cameo from Frost's main partner in crime can save Cuban Fury from mediocrity.
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