Of the trio who gave us Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End, only Nick Frost has really had a hard time creating a name for himself on his own. Simon Pegg has appeared in the Star Trek and Mission Impossible series, while Edgar Wright has given us Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and was attached to Marvel’s Ant Man until he wasn't. By contrast, Nick Frost hasn’t had much opportunity to create a name for himself stateside, though he’s had a fair bit of success as the lead in the rather funny Sky TV series Mr. Sloane. For Frost, Cuban Fury was supposed to be his chance to prove his leading man chops. He succeeds, but unfortunately it’s in a rather predictable dance comedy that’s oddly light on both dance and comedy. Nick Frost could easily become a big name for comedy lovers in America, but if it’s ever going to happen, he’s going to need something better than James Griffith’s lukewarm Cuban Fury.
Cuban Fury bases its sense of humor on the idea that “Tragedy plus time equals comedy” as it starts with the tale of young dancing prodigy Bruce (Frost) who, after a sequin-studded run in with a bunch of bullies on the way to a huge dance competition, swears off dancing and then falls very out of shape in the following years. Present day Bruce has let himself go quite a bit, and now suffers humiliation for his weight at the hands of his co-worker Drew (Chris O’Dowd), who also doesn’t shy away from telling him about all his sexual exploits. This is Bruce’s life, and all the happy memories of a wide-eyed dancing boy are long gone. Or so he thought. When Julia (Rashida Jones), the new “lady boss” from America, arrives Bruce finds a kindred spirit in her in more ways than he expects: she’s an avid salsa dancer. So begins Bruce’s attempts to break out of his shell and make peace with his past in order to show Julia how much they have in common, only to have his every advance thwarted by Drew whose self-confidence and desire to bed her lets him be more forthcoming with Julia.
Cuban Fury doesn’t have any surprises for you; you’ve seen the story of the nice guy eventually winning out over the jerk who initially wins the girl’s attentions. You know Bruce’s efforts will be subverted to help Drew, and you know, ultimately, Julia will figure it all out. Cuban Fury follows the formula from start to finish. All that really distinguishes it from its peers is that the way the guy eventually gets the girl is through salsa dancing (but it may as well be synchronized swimming or juggling). In spite of that, it still manages to find some meager laughs thanks in large part to Frost, Jones, and O’Dowd being funny people. Ian McShane, as Bruce’s dancing coach, gets a couple laughs himself, but all of the jokes still feel rather tired.
The biggest downside of Cuban Fury is that its poor performance and mediocrity might lead people to think Nick Frost can’t carry a comedy all on his own, which is absolutely incorrect. Given a proper funny script that doesn’t play it safe every step of the way, Frost could be excellent. He conveys both drama and comedy with sincerity here, it’s just that the comedy is rather stale, leaving us with a drama about a former dance prodigy with a few jokes thrown in for good measure. Frost deserves another, better chance to win over American audiences.
Until then, Cuban Fury goes through the paces without stumbling, but it does so while counting every step out loud like a kid learning to waltz for the first time. That can be funny to watch, but mostly it’s just awkward and really repetitive.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
A few tips on salsa dancing, a Q&A with Nick Frost, and a production featurette are the only extras.
"Cuban Fury" is on sale July 29, 2014 and is rated R. Comedy, Romance. Directed by James Griffiths. Written by Jon Brown, Nick Frost. Starring Chris Odowd, Nick Frost, Rashida Jones.