Based on an original idea from leading actor Nick Frost and written by British sitcom stalwart Jon Brown, James Griffiths’ feature filmmaking debut Cuban Fury (2014) sees Frost transcending his Cornetto Trilogy compadres and going solo in a British comedy that attempts to meet belly laughs with the zesty world of salsa dancing, but offering only middling results. Labelled “the boy with fire in his heels” as a 13-year-old in the eighties, Bruce Garrett was a dancing prodigy poised to sweep the floor at the UK Junior Salsa Championship until an incident with a group of bullies robs him of his confidence and determination to carry on with the sport he loves.
Cut to 22 years later and Bruce (Frost) is a repressed, out of shape office drone trapped in, and hesitant to break out of, his unexciting comfort zone, despite the constant, niggling protestations of his loyal sister Sam (the consistently superb Olivia Colman). Though instantly enamoured with his beautiful – and unexpectedly female – new boss Julia (Rashida Jones), Bruce’s meek advances are repetitively challenged by office nemesis Drew (Chris O’Dowd), a smarmy lothario who fancies courting Julia’s affections for himself. It isn’t until Bruce happens to discover Julia’s passion for salsa dancing that he decides to shape up, dust off the dancing shoes and seek out his childhood mentor Ron Parfitt (Ian McShane) in a last ditch attempt to break out of the doldrums and win the heart of his newfound love.
Miles away from the comedic sophistication of production company Big Talk Productions previous output, namely Edgar Wright’s aforementioned trilogy and Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers (2012), Cuban Fury is a limply constructed and entirely unmemorable comedy vehicle for its obviously passionate star, whose agility in his inauguration as leading man barely masks the film’s various weaknesses. This, alongside the minuscule and derivative plot, is predominantly found with slim characterisations, which trade depth for surface-level caricature: O’Dowd’s unlikable louse, Frost’s humble, damaged underdog and McShane’s gruff, shot-swigging instructor who, curiously, is never seen dancing.
US sitcom star Jones is, unfortunately, saddled with the extremely underwritten role of Julia, which, in sharing minimal time with Bruce, renders the “Will they won’t they?” equation null and void as their pending union is given little room to breathe. Unlike the form of Latin American dance Griffiths shoots with sparkling joie de vivre, his film is strangely unsexy, with the chemistry between Frost and Jones failing to last much longer after their initial meet-cute, robbing the film of much needed thrust. Though it contains a handful of humorous sight gags (away from the obvious jokes regarding Frost’s size), Cuban Fury is a flashy jaunt that squanders its potential in favour of a story that, ironically, lacks pizazz.