The beloved BBC series Spaced and follow-up projects from Spaced co-creator Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) established that Nick Frost was someone whose career was well-worth watching.
Of course, there was some question as to whether the portly but charismatic comedic character actor could do more than steal scenes in support – and whether he could hold his own as the centerpiece of a movie, something that his convincing, amusing turn as the “action star” of Wright’s underrated The World’s End answered quite nicely with a resounding “yes.”
Frost’s follow-up, Cuban Fury, might not be quite what his growing legions of fans may have been expecting from him, though. It’s a fairly lightweight romantic comedy, one that features a strong Latin dance component. Let that sink in for a moment. A romantic comedy with Frost as a “rom-com” star. One in which he dances. A lot.
Luckily, he’s still got enough charm to make most of us overlook the more far-fetched and dumber story elements. And surprisingly, he’s fleet of foot enough to be able to pull off some pretty tricky moves and sequences. While the film might not be up to the usually high Frost-Wright standards, it’s pretty likable and it does have a good cast.
Frost stars as Bruce Garrett, a meek British office worker whose social life is all but nonexistent. (Bruce spends most of his weekends with a couple of friends, played by Rory Kinnear and Tim Plester, who bemoan their similar fates but do nothing about it.)
Unbeknownst to those pals, and to everyone except his sister, Sam (Olivia Colman), he once harbored some illusions of being a salsa dancer. In fact, he was quite good at it, at least until a bullying incident soured teenage prodigy Bruce (played by Ben Radcliffe in flashback sequences) on dancing forever, it seemed.
But that fire inside is rekindled when Bruce meets Julia (Rashida Jones), his beautiful new American boss. He’s gob smacked by her, especially when Julia turns out to be a real sweetheart – and when it’s revealed that she also loves salsa dancing.
While Bruce tries to summon the courage to ask Julia out – or at least to have more than a brief conversation — his brutish, sexist co-worker, Drew (Chris O’Dowd), also sets his sights on the American transplant. So it seems that, if he’s to get a leg up on his “competition,” Bruce is going to have to put on his dancing shoes again. And harder yet, he’s going to have to convince his former coach, Ron Parfitt (Ian McShane), that he’s sincere and that he’s going to give it a real effort.
It’s clear from the amount of effort Frost puts into the numerous dance scenes that this is a passion project (dance doubles were used sparingly for the production). And it’s based on an idea that came directly from Frost. But his filmmaking cohorts here (director James Griffiths and screenwriter Jon Brown, both British TV veterans) don’t have quite as much creative flair as Wright.
In fact, the office scenes drag on a bit and don’t have nearly the punch as the dance-club ones. And O’Dowd (so amusing in things like Bridesmaids and HBO’s Girls) is a tad irksome. His best moments come in an amusing and surprisingly exciting parking-lot dance “battle” between Bruce and Drew – which is, coincidentally, the best sequence in the entire film.
Jones and Frost also do what they can to convince us their chemistry is genuine, despite some dodgy writing (her character, in particular, is a little underdeveloped and one-note).
Speaking of underdeveloped, McShane’s character begs for more screen time, as do the ones played by the always terrific Colman and Kayvan Novak, who steals his scenes as a fellow dancer teaching Bruce to be more confident and suave.
Jeff Michael Vice can also be heard reviewing films, television programs, comics, books, music and other things as part of The Geek Show Podcast (www.thegeekshowpodcast.com), and can be seen reviewing films as part of Xfinity’s Big Movie Mouth-Off (www.facebook.com/BigMovieMouthOff).