Stars: Nick Frost, Rashida Jones, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Chris O’Dowd, Ian McShane, Olivia Colman, Alexandra Roach, Rory Kinnear, Kayvan Novak | Written by Jon Brown | Directed by James Griffiths
Tubby funster Nick Frost steps out as the lead in salsa-based rom-com Cuban Fury. Frost plays Bruce, a former teenage salsa dancing extraordinaire who dons his Cuban heels once more in order to woo his new boss Julie, played by the lovely Rashida Jones. Standing in Bruce’s way are unpleasant colleague Drew, a none-more sleazy Chris O’Dowd and his own paralysing neurosis and shattered confidence.
Despite coming from a very televisual background – its director, James Griffiths, is best known (insomuch as he is known at all) for his work on Episodes and its writer and most of its stars made their names in TV – Cuban Fury stands up as one of the better examples of a British rom-com in recent years.
The film is bolstered by a better than average supporting cast. Soon-to-be national treasure Olivia Colman plays Bruce’s supportive sister Sam, Ian McShane does a job as Bruce’s grouchy dance coach and Fonejacker Kayvan Novak entertains as Bejan, Bruce’s camp fellow salsa-enthusiast.
There’s something inherently funny about watching someone of Frost’s size and stature impressively busting shapes in a frilly satin shirt, which obviously bodes well for a big chunk of the film. Outside of the dancing scenes, Misfits and Fresh Meat writer Jon Brown’s script is consistently witty if a little low on outright belly laughs, mining decent material from office-based situations and an amusing depiction of a small town salsa scene. It’s not the most cerebral of comedies, but chances are you’re going to find something to titter at.
On the downside, it’d have been nicer if Jones – a perfectly able comedian, based on her work on Parks and Recreation – had been given a little more to do and it’s disappointing that in the salsa competition that Bruce enters at the film’s conclusion, he ditches his hard working sister as his dance partner after the semi-finals in order to jive with Julie. Colman probably could have been served a little better than that. I’m also unsure if it was necessary to make O’Dowd’s character quite so much of a cock. He’s clearly enjoying playing the bad guy but his propensity for douchebaggery begins to beggar belief. Still, he offers a good foil to Frost’s likeable loser and their car park dance-off scene is brilliant in both comedic and choreographic stakes.
The film also lacks a little depth. Where Frost’s pictures with Edgar Wright generally have something more going on than just gags to chew over, there’s little more to Cuban Fury beyond its underdog-coming-good and slightly trite themes of being yourself, following dreams and whatnot. Which is fine whilst you’re watching it, but offers little to come back to. Compare Frost’s performance in this with his excellent turn in The World’s End, a role that required him to not only be funny, but be a believably conflicted and complex character and you’ll understand why one might reasonably expect a little more from the actor.
I don’t wish to be too down on Cuban Fury, because I wholly enjoyed watching it during its runtime. It’s very easy to point out where a film doesn’t compare favourably to its peers or could be better in whatever way. Arguably the goodwill Nick Frost has worked hard to acquire carries the film for quite a lot of its duration, but that would be to ignore the film’s qualities in and of itself and the strong efforts of the rest of the cast. Cuban Fury is a more commendable comedy than most as, for one thing, it’s actually funny and for another, it’s not brain-meltingly stupid. It may not have the longevity of some of his other work, but for a jolly knock-about rom-com, Cuban Fury has all the right moves.
Cuban Fury is released on DVD and Blu-ray on June 9th, courtesy of Studiocanal.