April 11, 2014

Cuban Fury

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Cuban Fury

COMEDY/ROMANCE:

United Kingdom, 2014

U.S. Release Date:

2014-04-11

Running Length:

1:38

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Profanity, Sexual Content)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Nick Frost, Rashida Jones, Chris O'Dowd, Olivia Colman, Ian McShane

Director:

James Griffiths

Screenplay:

Jon Brown, based on an original idea by Nick Frost

Cinematography:

Dick Pope

U.S. Distributor:

Entertainment One

Subtitles:

none


Love and dance have been linked together for as long as there have been movies. Cuban Fury is the latest member of this proud tradition but it's not likely to cause many viewers to forget the classics (or even some of the not-so-classics) of the genre. The comedy and romance are uneven but passable; the real disappointment comes from the dance sequences, which lack energy and passion. They're unimaginatively choreographed and shot in a way that doesn't do a good job camouflaging Nick Frost's limitations on the dance floor. The big Saturday Night Fever moment isn't there - Cuban Fury lacks the critical scene in which the music, the visuals, and the dancing meld perfectly. It ends up feeling a little like warmed-over Strictly Ballroom without Baz Lurhmann's over-the-top sense of style.

Part of the reason for this may be that Cuban Fury seems more invested in the standard-order rom-com storyline than the dancing, which ends up as the device that brings the lovers together. It could just as easily have been fly fishing or tiddlywinks, except those activities aren't as cinematic. The core narrative falls into the camp of "out-of-shape guy falls for a pretty girl, cleans up his act, and beats a sleazy rival for the girl's affections." It's a tried-and-true formula for a reason: when done successfully, the fantasy is a grand one that everyone can relate to (because most of us, regardless of our actual physical appeal, feel like an ugly duckling at some time during our lives). In Cuban Fury, mediocrity rules. The romance is delivered without flair. We root for the characters within the context of the story but their chemistry is fragile and the movie gives us too little to latch onto.

Nick Frost plays Bruce Garrett, a mild-mannered worker bee at a manufacturing company (his motto: "I love lathes"). A former child salsa prodigy, Bruce long ago gave up dancing after an unpleasant encounter with bullies. Now, he spends his off-hours playing golf and hanging out with two loser buddies who are obsessed with how unsuccessful they are with the opposite sex. Bruce's libido is piqued by the arrival of a new (female) boss. Julia (Rashida Jones) is smart, attractive, and witty. Unfortunately, she's also in the bulls-eye of Bruce's smarmy ladies-man co-worker, Drew (Chris O'Dowd), who uses every unscrupulous trick imaginable to monopolize Julia's attention. But Bruce has a secret weapon: Julia is a salsa fan. So, putting aside his fears, Bruce seeks out his old mentor, Ron Parfait (Ian McShane), and tries to get back in the saddle. Things don't go well at first but, after a montage, he's back to being the Bruce of old.

Despite its questionable qualities in some areas, Cuban Fury gets points as a "feel good" film. Bruce finds himself, gets the girl, and things generally turn out all right. The chief villain, played by a thoroughly dislikeable Chris O'Dowd, gets his comeuppance. All's right with the world. The road to get there is rocky, though. I was surprised at how infrequently I laughed (considering how funny Frost's collaborations with Simon Pegg - Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz - were). The dance-off confrontation between Bruce and Drew, which seems like something out of Anchorman, is bizarre but not all that funny, and it seems to have been intended as a comedic highlight.

Nick Frost is affable in a Kevin James sort of way. That's always been the case with him. He's good leading man material for a "schlub gets the girl" type of story but his dancing abilities are too limited for even a generous helping off the "suspension of disbelief" menu to satisfy. Director James Griffiths perhaps should have taken lessons from previous films where trick photography and body doubles made less-talented actors seem like superstar dancers. (The 1992 movie, The Cutting Edge, although about ice skating, might have been a good template.)

There's nothing especially wrong with Cuban Fury but neither is there anything terribly right. It's a middle-of-the-road, ultimately forgettable romantic comedy that will have difficulty gaining traction in a crowded April marketplace. If you stumble upon this accidentally, it's good enough not to walk away from but it's not something worth seeking out.

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