Cast: Nick Frost, Rashida Jones, Chris O’Dowd, Olivia Colman, Ian McShane, Kayvan Novak, Alexandra Roach, Rory Kinnear, Tim Plester, Ben Radcliffe
As a teenager, Bruce Garrett (Frost) is a salsa prodigy, winning with his sister, Sam (Colman) trophy after trophy, and heading for the top. On his way to a major competition, Bruce is ambushed by three bullies who make fun of his sequinned outfit and assault him; ashamed and embarrassed by what has happened, Bruce turns his back on salsa and vows never to dance again.
Twenty-two years on, and Bruce is out-of-shape, without a girlfriend, and working for a tool-making company (though he does “love the lathe”). When the company gains a new, American boss, Julia (Jones), Bruce finds himself attracted to her, and while they enjoy a good working relationship, Bruce convinces himself that nothing romantic will happen between them. But when would-be Lothario and colleague, Drew (O”Dowd) begins to express a less than healthy interest in Julia, and prompted by the knowledge that Julia salsa dances as well, Bruce decides to renew his love for dance in the hope of winning Julia’s heart.
Renewing his love for dance, however, means getting back in touch with his old mentor, Ron Parfitt (McShane). Ron isn’t too pleased to see Bruce, and makes him join his beginners class. As Bruce comes to realise just how rusty he is, and how much salsa has moved on since he competed, he begins to regain his confidence. When a dance competition is announced, Bruce trains even harder with the intention of asking Julia to be his partner. But Drew is determined to bed her and engineers a situation that gives Bruce the impression he’s done so. Will Bruce learn the truth before it’s too late? Will Drew get his comeuppance? And will Julia make it to the dancehall in time to partner Bruce in the final round?
Based on an original idea by Nick Frost, Cuban Fury is a romantic comedy that charms its way into the viewer’s heart thanks to a combination of winning performances, a neat line in physical comedy, and well-choreographed dance sequences. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve from the outset, showing the enjoyment the younger Bruce (Radcliffe) derives from dancing before it turns necessarily darker when Bruce is subject to the bullies’ attack. Frost shows the same love and enjoyment in his dance sequences, displaying an agility and aptitude that, on paper at least, should be surprising, but in reality are entirely believable (though the acrobatics employed in the dance-off against Drew undermine Frost’s efforts in the rest of the movie). O’Dowd has some good moves as well (though he’s more of an improviser than a formal dancer), but Jones only gets to strut her stuff in a couple of much shorter sequences. Even so, their willingness to perform – with only a few shots the work of dance doubles – helps ground the movie so that the dance routines don’t stray too far from what you’d expect of the characters.
Away from the dance floor, Frost convinces as the hapless, ordinary man who no longer expects much from his life; it’s not exactly a stretch for Frost but he’s a likeable screen presence and adds layers to the character of Bruce that might not otherwise have been included. O’Dowd excels as the ultra-sleazy Drew, the kind of man a woman would bite her own foot off to avoid, as clueless about the fairer sex as he is about gender equality and what constitutes inappropriate behaviour. As the object of both men’s attentions, Jones has the lesser role and less opportunity to shine (though this misfortune can be laid firmly at the door of Jon Brown’s screenplay), while as Sam, Colman impresses as Bruce’s freewheeling sister, providing many of the movie’s prime laughs. So too does Novak as Bejan, one of the learners in Ron’s class who befriends Bruce and helps him regain his confidence; with one-liners such as “I’m late for my ball waxing” it’s hardly surprising. It’s left to McShane to provide the gravitas, scowling at Bruce and pushing him to work harder in order to succeed. (There’s also a priceless cameo from one of Frost’s Cornetto Trilogy castmates.)
Behind the camera, Griffiths provides efficient if unfussy direction, saving the big camera moves for the infectious dance sequences, and using low camera angles to good effect. The editing by Jonathan Amos, and the music choices (overseen by Nick Angel) combine to make these sections enthralling and enticing in equal measure (if you’re not tapping your toes there’s something wrong with you – peripheral neuropathy perhaps?).
Overall, Cuban Fury is an enjoyable variation on the boy-meets-girl, boy-deems-himself-not-worthy, boy-redeems-himself-and-wins-the-girl-through-accepting-hidden-talent tale of romantic woes and tribulations. In reality there’s nothing entirely new here but it’s done with a lightness of touch that helps captivate the viewer and keeps them smiling all the way through. And if there’s a sequel, let’s hope it’s called Cuban Fury 2: Heels of Steel.
Rating: 8/10 – funny, heart-warming and brimming with charm, Cuban Fury entertains throughout its running time; kudos to Frost for bringing his idea to life, and with such hip-swinging verve.