Nick Frost aims to shake off the comedy sidekick shadow and salsa his way into his dream girl's heart with Cuban Fury. But does this reach a crescendo of top comedy? Or does it trip and falls over itself? 411's Terry Lewis scores on his judge's table.
Nick Frost - Bruce Rashida Jones - Julia Chris O'Dowd - Drew Ian McShane - Ron Kayvan Novak - Bejan Olivia Colman - Sam
"Ah Nick Frost, come in and sit down. Yes, there will do. Cup of tea or straight to business? Fair enough. Right we know Si is doing well but we feel it's time you had a shot at leading man with your own film. Oh you've got an idea? Oh let's hear it. Ooo, a tubby guy learns salsa dancing? Yeah okay let's give it a whirl, sounds promising..."
Bruce Garrett (Frost, The World's End) fell in love with salsa dancing as a kid and took it up himself. Turns out he was pretty good and he toured the UK with his sister and won multiple salsa titles. But on the fateful day of the National Finals, poor Bruce was embarrassed when a gang of older kids beat him up whilst he was in his salsa costume because of the way he was dressed. He no showed, much to his hard ass coach Ron's disappointment (Ian McShane, Jack The Giant Slayer). 25 years later, Bruce has put on weight to say the least and lives a life inside his own shell. However, when new boss Julia (Rashida Jones, Parks and Recreation) is found out to love salsa too, Bruce dusts off his old cuban heels and gets himself back into shape so he can salsa dance his way into Julia's heart.
I love Nick Frost. He comes across as the big lad who played sports because of his size was your best mate and made it big. It's a bit of a pain for him that he's stuck perhaps in the shadow of his more famous Blood and Cornetto partner Simon Pegg, with him getting his foot into Hollywood and being a guy everyone wants to work with while Frost seems to have stalled and not done alot. It's time for him to stand up and be counted.
So "can he make it as a leading man in his own film?" is the real challenge his new movie Cuban Fury has to overcome, with a cute concept at his core, and backed by a superb cast. Can a Nick Frost led rom-com finally break his duck and get him over in a film away from Pegg?
He does have a few problems to overcome. Not being sexist but Frost's general fanbase I'd say is predominantly guys and a romantic comedy is going to be a hard sell to them, even with a good back up cast. There's no real connection for a guy I feel for Bruce's quest, since it's not really that engaging to their trope. It feels like a begrudging chore to find a lady or girlfriend to take along and not a popcorn flick to go see with the rest of the guys. I suppose you could say there's a hero's quest to follow but Julia doesn't really feel like a fleshed out creature worth fighting over. Jones is a good comedy actress and she is pretty but here she's not give much apart to work with apart from, she's an American, she's a girl and she likes salsa. Very criminally underwritten and makes her a bit boring and unappealing sadly.
The main problem is, there's three characters and performances that stick in my mind much more after watching this than Frost. Top Irish comedy actor Chris O'Dowd of Bridesmaids and The I.T. Crowd fame steals the film pretty much with a fantastic performance as the oversexed office dick (and Bruce's competition for Julia) Drew with a fabulous over the top thrusting performance and three killer one liners. Not to be outdone, camp, more experienced salsa dancer Bejan is brought to life in a star making performance by Kayvan Novak of UK Fonejacker fame and McShane is his usual brilliant, gruff, hard ass old timer self. Heck, British drama and comedy darling Olivia Colman (Broadchurch) is memorable as Bruce's cuban bar, alcoholic, colourfully dressed sister. Actually, there's a weird sequence where she becomes Bruce's dance partner for a bit, further giving Rashida Jones less to do.
What I really don't get is that Frost came up with the concept of the film and passed it on to another screenwriter to flesh out the script. Soooo, why isn't there anything meaty and memorable for Bruce to do? The love triangle struggles and tropes are there but it's so old hat. The dance off between Bruce and Drew is quite funny but I just want a bit more. Why not go the whole hog considering this is a film about salsa dancing and have a Ricky Martin-esque, "Livin' La Vida Loca", singing in the rain war? There was a need to play up more to the ridiculousness of salsa dancing in terms of comedy here which seems to have gone missing. Nothing wrong with it being played straight but surely you can do better in finding jokes from it rather than Frost saving his chest, putting on fake tan and being thought of gay by being with Bejan by his friends?
Not to say that Bruce doesn't have his moments. The rage after dealing with Drew one too many times over Julia leading him to put his fist through a weak wall is hilarious, but then Bruce is a bit of a boring character. He has some nice idiosyncrasies like reporting in with his two golf buddies on their encounters with women at start of every game and doing the Thundercats "HOOOO!" with his sister, but half the humour with Bruce lies with the fact that a large gentleman doing salsa is overly hilarious... which it isn't really. In fact, there's not that much made of it. Which is the selling point of the film.
Don't get me wrong, the salsa dancing scenes are well done and yeah it's probably the best dance comedy film since Strictly Ballroom but some of the direction could learn a few lessons for the future. Sometimes, the camera is shown to clearly film Frost but the dance action moves are so fast you can't tell it's him as the camera is trying to capture it and you're left wondering if it's a double, it looks that awkward. Of course there's some moves Frost can't pull off like a somersault but it feels like even the basic stuff doesn't quite shown correctly. Later on, Bruce and his sister are shown dancing and it's shot so boringly despite some cool moves. It's a real case of having two polar opposites of bad camerawork for director James Griffiths' first film after some good TV work in Episodes. In fact, most of the production team behind the Blood & Cornetto films were behind this and you'd think they'd have a good idea how to shoot something like this. It's just weird.
The 411: The jury is still out on Nick Frost as a leading man after Cuban Fury sadly. He gets massively upstaged by a genuinely great supporting cast getting the better jokes in a rather straight film about the colourful and spicy world of salsa dancing. For all the faults and mistakes though, I did think it was enjoyable enough and there are some great lines and moments. Just not from the guy you expect and perhaps want it to be. A misfire.