Nick Frost busts a move on Chris O'Dowd in "Cuban Fury." Credit: Entertainment One
‘Cuban Fury’ Director: James Griffiths Stars: Nick Frost, Rashida Jones Rating: R 2 (out of 5) Globes
Let’s get this out of the way: “Cuban Fury” is not an original. It’s not even terribly inspired. It’s a paint-by-numbers underdog rom-com in which lumpy sad sack Bruce (Nick Frost) tries to win the heart of a woman (Rashida Jones) who looks like Rashida Jones. It hits every single note, plus old ones that feel like they were teleported from two decades ago. Not only does Bruce try to get the girl and defeat the over-the-top jerk (Chris O'Dowd), but his mate, the bro-ish Gary (Rory Kinnear), has to learn about tolerance from an old school flamboyant homosexual (the very funny Kayvan Novak of “Four Lions”).
On its face, “Cuban Fury” doesn’t seem very defensible. And yet it’s reasonably likable despite itself — or rather because of who’s in it and because it’s taken two things that don’t go together and put them together anyway: dry English wit and salsa dancing. Back and forth the film goes between fumbling, self-deprecating humor and the all-caps FIRE of DANCING.
When he was young — as we see in an energetic prologue very much indebted to Frost’s most closely associated filmmaker, Edgar Wright — Bruce was a salsa prodigy, forced by that irresistible rhythm to don questionable clothing and hoof with his every fiber. It took one bloody bullying to beat the passion out of him, leading him inextricably on a path to ignored office monkey. But when he discovers his new, hot, American boss — Jones’ Julia — likes to salsa, he decides to reawaken his dormant fury, even if that means reacquainting himself with his old, angry teacher (Ian McShane).
If there’s one important thing “Cuban Fury” lacks — along with better jokes — it’s more dancing. There’s a lot of training but only one climactic competition. Meanwhile it’s practically impossible to tell if Frost has moves, as he’s obscured (or aided) by overemphatic editing. (Directors of dance movies: Move the camera back. The dancing means nothing if the viewer can’t see head and feet — or even feet or head.)
Frost does a mean hyperbolic pose, though, and the movie gains a lot by the dumb jokes it doesn't tell, chief among them fat jokes. Frost has always been very casual about his weight, and this is no different. He doesn’t hide it, but he doesn’t play it for cheap laughs; note that it was the very slim Simon Pegg — filing a quickie, winking cameo here — who starred in “Run, Fatboy, Run.” If you look at his CV, Frost is a very versatile actor, who can do the buddy (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz”) as fully as he does the uptight jerk (“The World’s End”). Playing puppydog-ish for the first time, he brings an air of dignity and relaxation to a movie that, were he not in it, would have only nice music, a few sharp supporting turns (including Olivia Colman) and one gut-busting goof on the "you took my breath away" cliche going for it.