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STUDIO Entertainment One
RUNNING TIME 98 minutes
• Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes
• How to Dance Salsa with Nick Frost
• Q&A with Nick Frost
A romantic comedy about salsa dancing that’s so much better than it sounds.
Nick Frost, Chris O’Dowd, Ian McShane, Rashida Jones, Olivia Colman, Rory Kinnear, Tim Plester, Kayvon Novak
Beneath Bruce Garrett’s shabby, overweight exterior, the passionate beating heart of a salsa king lays dormant. Only one woman can reignite his Latin fire, but first Bruce must learn how to unshackle his dancing beast, regain his long lost swagger and claim the love of his life.
2004 saw the release of Shaun of the Dead, a movie which introduced U.S. viewers to the trio of comedy demi-gods known as Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost. Though there’s scant evidence, it seems that Edgar Wright was able to function on his own without the help of his face men, but the struggle to exist away from Wright didn’t come as easily for Pegg and Frost.
Pegg managed to carve out a niche for himself in smallish roles in big budget American action movie franchises like Mission Impossible and Star Trek, but his attempts at being a solo comedy act in tripe like the crass romantic comedy/biopic of an absolute asshole How to Lose Friends and Alienate People or his attempt to recapture the magic with he and Frost in the tone-deaf and lazily unfunny Paul just fell flat.
Frost really didn’t try to go solo. He mostly just took forgettable bit parts in forgettable movies (and Attack the Block) such as Pirate Radio and Wild Child. But now he’s heading a romantic comedy about salsa dancing.
In 2007 I was the sole person in the entire theater for a 2:00 showing of Run Fatboy Run, Pegg’s first big comedy vehicle starring himself, Thandie Newton, Dylan Moran, and Hank Azaria. It wasn’t as awful as history will tell you, largely thanks to the individual strengths of Pegg and Moran as well as the raw power of the two men together. Unfortunately comedian Michael Ian Black’s script, or perhaps director and sometimes funny-with-a-question-mark person David Schwimmer’s take on it, produced a flat, schmaltzy movie that wasted half of its cast and all of its promise. It still remains Pegg’s best attempt at a solo career.
Now the reason I told you that story is because the moment I saw a trailer for Cuban Fury, the first thing I did was flash back to Run Fatboy Run because just from watching the trailer I can see a lot of similarities. You’ve got one of the duo from the Cornetto trilogy playing a worthless schlub who hasn’t done anything with his life after running away from something he loved (salsa dancing/the love of his life), you’ve got the antagonistic friend character played by an Irish comedian (Chris O’Dowd/Dylan Moran), you’ve got the supportive siblings figure (Olivia Colman/Dylan Moran), the jackass rival played by a more popular comedian (Chris O’Dowd/Hank Azaria), the multi-racial love interest (Rashida Jones/Thandie Newton), and the trivial peacocking activity which drives the movie (salsa dancing/marathon running). It was this plot-synergy between movies that interested me in Cuban Fury to begin with while simultaneously making me dread it. Thankfully the similarities don’t go far beyond the superficial.
Nick Frost plays Bruce Garrett. As a child Bruce loved salsa dancing and he was really good at it, but one night he got beat up by some kids on the way to a competition and gave it up for life. Flash forward to now and Bruce is a gutless and pathetic man who is too scared of being embarrassed to realize how embarrassing his very existence has become. He’s constantly stepped on and mocked by his co-worker Drew (The IT Crowd/Family Tree/Moone Boy star Chris O’Dowd) and has a weekly gathering where he and his friends (Rory Kinnear and Tim Plester) gather and compare how depressing their romantic lives are.
Bruce has a meet-cute with his new American boss, Julia (Parks and Recreations‘ Rashida Jones) and soon finds out that she is really into Salsa dancing. So he sets out to reclaim his past glory in a misguided attempt to win her over before Drew has a chance to. You probably see where this is going, but you’re probably wrong, and that’s why this is a surprisingly smart movie.
While the marketing would have you believe that Frost and O’Dowd are meant to be rivals for the affection of Rashida Jones as though she’s some dense creature that selects partners based on their dancing skills, this could not be further from the truth. During the first moment between Julia and Bruce, it’s apparent she’s into him and it remains so in every little moment following that. Julia is just an outsider in a new country that’s in charge of a group of people, Bruce being one of them, and she’s shy and nervous. If Bruce would just grow a spine and ask her out we could just roll credits and go home, but that isn’t the point.
The genius about Cuban Fury is that it’s not actually about the guy getting the girl, it’s about him changing his life so he’ll be worthy of her. Drew isn’t Bruce’s rival in courting Julia, he’s his rival in courting his own sense of confidence and self-worth. Not that Bruce or Drew are aware of this; as far as Bruce is concerned he’s just trying to get Julia’s attention before Drew (who he views as the sort of ideal man who can attract any woman) does and Drew (who views himself in much the same way Bruce views him) sees Bruce’s attempts for Julia’s attention as undermining his own deluded alpha male status. If, at any point, Julia had learned about behind the scenes she would most likely tell them both to fuck off.
Bruce’s view of Julia’s easily swayed desire is kind of cringe-worthy but it seems meant to be that way. Bruce exhibits a lot of awful ideas about the world that aren’t immediately apparent at the opening of the film. His warped worldview is a result of his lack of self-worth. So rather than giving the woman to him as a reward for some small amount of self-improvement, he’s instead gifted with the awareness that he can be happy if he pulls his head out of his ass. It really shouldn’t be, but this is revolutionary for a romantic comedy. That doesn’t mean Cuban Fury doesn’t have a few little problems (it has a couple sort of gay-panic jokes that are really lazy) but it mostly avoids the pitfalls of the genre.
Cuban Fury’s greatest strength is its sincere love of its subject matter. This movie could have easily been a series of jokes about an old/fat man dancing like a sexy young person a la Kickin’ it Old School (I am so sorry for reminding you that exists) but Salsa dancing is what makes Bruce happy so the dancing scenes are treated with genuine seriousness with the exception of Frost and O’Dowd’s dance-off in the parking garage, which is probably one of the greatest fight scenes of the year (another parallel to Run Fatboy Run).
Typically, a cast of people I love in a b-list comedy is a sign of bad tidings that represents the producer stacking the deck with stunt-cast actors in hopes of getting a bad movie more love, but nobody is underutilized or stunt-cast here. Nick Frost brings a genuine charm to his character. In fact, I daresay this is the most personality Frost has brought to any character he’s played thus far (maybe Andy Knightly in The World’s End is on par) and a refreshing change of pace from the lovable dullard he usually embodies. Frost’s likability buoys you through a lot of Bruce’s more prickish moments and makes you really root for him during his genuine triumphs.
Chris O’Dowd is basically playing a much more cocksure version of his character from The IT Crowd. He’s so delightfully dickish that he steals just about every scene he’s in. In reality, O’Dowd isn’t even in enough of this movie to deserve the third-billing he gets but he is an honest asset to the movie’s more comedic moments.
Rashida Jones is a breath of fresh air as romantic leads go. She’s neither a quirky space cadet nor a frigid shrew, and actually embodies traits of what might actually be referred to as a “character” (a rarity in this sort of film). She has equal or less screen time than Chris O’Dowd and there is a sort of comfortable chemistry between Jones and Frost that could have and probably should have been used more (I understand why it wasn’t, given that this movie is just a regular comedy in a romantic comedy shell, but I could’ve done with more of them together) but just the fact that it actually seems like she might exist when the camera isn’t looking at her is still a step in the right direction. She also still manages to mine comedy out of bewilderment with reasonable success.
Honorable mentions go to Olivia Colman and Ian McShane as Bruce’s sister and dance trainer, respectively. They’re a dynamite supporting cast, especially considering they’re both playing tired genre tropes.
Cuban Fury has its share of problems, and it will never take the world by storm, but it has heart and a surprisingly clever arc that I appreciated. As someone who could probably count the total number of romantic comedies I like on my fingers, I think it’s worth at least a watch.
There’s for featurettes detailing the production, three chronicles of Frost’s training (he didn’t know how to salsa dance prior to the movie, he just wanted to star in a dance movie), and a Q&A on the movie with Nick Frost.
Picture is 1080p High Definition 2.40:1 and audio is DTS-HD Maste Audio 5.1. The disc has English subtitles.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars