Frost’s Fury a Cheery Spectacle of Dance, Desire and Cliché
There are few, if any, surprises where it comes to Cuban Fury. Sprung from the mind of actor Nick Frost, working from a script by “Misfits” staff writer Jon Brown and helmed by Brit television veteran James Griffith (“Episodes”), nothing that happens comes as anything close to a shock. It’s a typical tale of a loveable loser overcoming the steepest of odds rising from the ashes of his own self-doubt and insecurities to achieve victory, traveling in themes and ideas as old as storytelling itself.
At the same time, Cuban Fury is so darn likeable, so amazingly jovial and, best of all, so gosh darn funny, the over-familiarity of it all doesn’t end up being as gigantic a problem as one might initially assume. Strictly Ballroom meets Billy Elliot meets Rocky meets any one of Frost and favorite collaborator Simon Pegg’s Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End), the musically uninhibited Cuban Fury is a rollicking entertainment of rejuvenation and discovery that is easy to enjoy.
Once upon a time Bruce Garrett (Frost) was an up and coming Salsa superstar. He and his sister Sam (Olivia Colman) were the toast of the competitive circuit as teenagers, and if not for a tragic turn of events it’s likely their lives would have been filled with music, mirth and dance forever and always. But a bit of brutal bullying made Bruce hang up his Salsa shoes forever, leaving the world he loved more than anything thanks to a slightly bloody lip and a gigantic helping of wounded pride.
Fast-forward into the now and Bruce is an office drone going through the motions of life, a fact his snarky self-serving lothario of a coworker Drew (Chris O’Dowd) takes extra special glee in reveling in. But when their new American boss, Julia (Rashida Jones), proves to be an outgoing, Salsa-loving hottie, change is suddenly at hand. Seeking out his old dance coach and mentor Ron Parfitt (a sensational Ian McShane), Bruce rediscovers a zest for life he’d thought was lost forever, potentially igniting the flames of love in the process.
Like I said, none of this is original, and knowing where everything is headed isn’t difficult. But Frost, Brown and Griffith keep things focused on the characters, remembering that this is Bruce’s transformational story everything else secondary. More than that, the romantic comedy aspects, the competitive elements, the underdog story, those are all in service to the saga of a man coming back in touch with core elements who once upon a time made him who he was.
Winning isn’t important. Showing up his narcissistic coworker isn’t important. Heck, even falling in love isn’t terribly important. Gaining confidence, living life with zest and zeal, getting in touch with the things that make him happy, this and all else involving the main interior elements of Bruce’s persona that is what is of utmost importance, and it is to the filmmakers credit that they remember this for each second of the film’s brisk running time.
So there are some odd choices made, most notably in not giving Jones a lot more to do than be a lovable dancing ditz, which is fine, I guess, save the fact it’s hard to care too much one way or the other whether or not Bruce loses Julia to Drew when she’s so decidedly one dimensional. As for O’Dowd, he’s a hoot, certainly, but he’s also a rather bland villain at the end of the day, his ultimate comeuppance not nearly as satisfying as I’d hoped it would be.
Also worth pointing out is the performance of Kayvan Novak as Persian Salsa student Bejan. It’s like he has been pulled out of 1978’s La Cage aux Folles, his whole persona a stereotypical monstrosity culled from a cinematic era that should be over and done with. Thing is, Novak is so ingratiating, so endearing, Bejan becomes increasingly difficult to dislike as things progress. Heck, by the end I was almost glad he was around, the actor doing a grand job of taking a tiresome, obnoxiously cliché character and making something borderline wonderful out of him.
This is Frost’s show, however, and he’s more than up to the challenge. He proves once again that he’s one of the more underrated actors around, and much like he did in The World’s End he crafts a multifaceted, complex characterization out of the most basic and ephemeral of traits. Bruce is the kind of guy most people the world over can relate to at least in some small fashion, making his reawakening to the wonders of the world all the more special.
Cuban Fury isn’t the greatest movie ever made, not that it was ever meant to be, but that doesn’t make it any less amusing. It has passion and energy galore, and while some facets aren’t as engaging as others on the whole Frost and his capable team do a fine job of making things click. The film danced away with my heart, its toe-tapping rhythms so irresistible I personally can’t wait to experience a few of their more melodious cadences for a second time relatively soon.
Film Rating: 3 out of 4
Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle