By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
All people, great or small, can dance and should not be ashamed to flaunt it. This is the message that the adorably sweet, but also cliche and formulaic, Cuban Fury delivers. Edgar Wright regular, Nick Frost, stars as Bruce Garrett, a man who, due to a childhood bullying incident, has lost all passion for his first love, salsa dancing. In fact, he has lost most of his passion for living and love, save for a successful career. When he falls head over heels in love with his American boss, Julia (Rashida Jones), and finds out that she loves salsa dancing, Bruce decides to get his groove and his moves back. Bruce finds his former trainer Ron Parfitt (Ian McShane) and begs him for his help. Not only does Bruce have much work to do to return to form, he faces an unfriendly rival for Julia in his rude and crass co-worker Drew (Chris O’Dowd).
Cuban Fury may have a formulaic romantic plot, but because it has so much heart and never goes overly syrupy sweet, it has won my love. Written by Jon Brown and Nick Frost, and directed by James Griffiths, the movie also delivers plenty of laughs, and thankfully doesn’t rely on fat jokes for all of its humor. The weight jokes that are there exist only for the purpose of showing how shallow and boorish the Drew character is. In fact, several of his lines are not meant at all for laughs, but to make his character truly distasteful. The filmmakers obviously have much love and passion for dancing and are true romantics at heart. Nick Frost appeared at a promotional screening for the film here in Austin where he explained the intentions and inspiration for the film. He stated that this film is meant to show that even larger people can dance, can do so skillfully, and not just as a curiosity or source for sympathy. It is this genuine sentiment that makes this film so lovable.
Frost not only delivers a superb performance as Bruce, but he can actually dance! I truly was impressed with his moves; so he and his collaborators are not just blowing saccharine hot air. Granted, some of the more elaborate dance sequences are obviously done with some movie magic, but all of the closer shots are actually Frost himself, who had to take some lessons and training to nail these scenes. Cuban Fury also features solid performances by Olivia Colman (Hot Fuzz) who stars as Bruce’s sister Sam, and Rory Kinnear who portrays Bruce’s best friend Gary. Ian McShane is a hoot as the no-nonsense salsa coach Ron Parfitt, and Rashida Jones exudes her naturally lovable charm as Julia.
Chris O’Dowd is truly despicable as Bruce’s rival and tormentor Drew. Honestly, he does get plenty of laughs, but can get really nasty when it comes to insulting the sweet and humble Bruce. He is absolutely tremendous in this role and has great timing and skill in making Drew a character one absolutely loves to hate. Prior to watching this movie, I had never heard of Kayvan Novak, but after loving and enjoying his performance here, I hope to see his name in film credits more often. Novak, who portrays Bruce’s dance classmate Bejan, is an absolute riot. He has all the best lines, and gets all of the hearty laughs. His character is a bit of a caricature, but a lovable one at that. He really is a revelation in this comedic role, and I seriously hope that his appearance in this movie earns him more recognition.
Though Cuban Fury might not be the most original romantic comedy out there, its earnest message, and the superb comedic writing and execution of it make this a movie people should see and enjoy. Also, I cannot review a movie about salsa dancing without discussing the awesome soundtrack. Fans of Latin music, particularly salsa and reggaeton will especially have a blast. I highly recommend this movie as sweet and fun date movie, but be warned, your date may want to go out dancing afterward.