***THIS REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED AT THE HOLLYWOOD NEWS ON TUESDAY 11TH FEBRUARY, HERE***
Director: James Griffiths.
Starring: Nick Frost, Chris O’Dowd, Kayvan Novak, Rashida Jones, Olivia Colman, Ian McShane, Rory Kinnear.
Running Time: 98 minutes.
Synopsis: Junior salsa champion, Bruce (Nick Frost) leaves his dancing dreams behind after a bullying incident goes too far. Bored and stuck in routine, the arrival of beautiful, smart new boss Julia (Rashida Jones) gives him reason to dig out his Cuban heels once more. That is, if sleazy co-worker Drew (Chris O’Dowd) doesn’t get in there first.
Fresh out of The Cornetto Trilogy, Nick Frost swaps ice cream for dancing shoes in a surprisingly relatable story buried under a mountain of sequins. The opening credit narration and quick-fire editing may suggest an Edgar Wright rip-off, but CUBAN FURY delivers far beyond the usual romcom tropes thanks to its brilliant cast and token salsa twist.
Based on an original idea that came to him after a drunken night out, Nick Frost plays Bruce, a former UK salsa champion who locked his trophies away after the horrors of ‘Sequingate’. Though evidently very good at his job, daily abuse from colleague Drew makes it less than enjoyable until new American boss Julia shatters the tedium. Convinced she’s out of his league, a shared love for dance has Bruce egged on by his best friends to win her heart – but getting back on the dance floor is a little more complex than climbing onto his fold up bike.
Completely unprepared for the evolution of the British salsa scene, an initial lesson sees him embarrassed and his ego bruised. Luckily help comes in the form of dance teacher, Ron (Ian McShane), and Kayvan Novak’s camp, Fanta-addicted Bejan. Though Bejan’s incredible one-liners barely give you time to come up for air, the pairing of Novak and Frost sees the comic sparks fly and it’s hard to envisage a more infectious and uproariously hilarious character than Bejan to grace 2014’s screens.
As Bruce sets out on a one-track mission to get his swag back, Richard Marcel’s sexy choreography effortlessly incorporates Frost’s imperfections and comedy whilst powering the story, even finding room for a breathless brother-sister finale. Though ultimately far more about the dance than the girl, Rashida Jones’ natural charisma makes Frost’s newfound infatuation one to invest in, even if she has very little to play with. Neither Julia or Bruce’s gutsy barmaid sister Sam (Olivia Colman) are ever perceived as damsels in distress, and the decision to let them wear their hearts on their sleeves prevents CUBAN FURY from potential overblown schmaltz.
But mushiness was never on the menu if love rival Drew had anything to do with it. Starting off as a sexist vocal foghorn, you worry O’Dowd’s antics will soon wear thin, but the Irishman effortlessly pulls off the hard task of filling the void between Frost’s everyman and Novak’s Bejan-ness. As tensions heat up over their plans for Julia, Drew finds himself dragged into the hot stepping antics with an inspired setpiece that owes as much to WEST SIDE STORY and ZOOLANDER as it does LETHAL WEAPON. A film jam-packed with eighties references, it may jump all over the place in regards to style, but it results in a welcomed, unashamedly fun mishmash.
CUBAN FURY may struggle at times to feel fresh, but this is an impressive debut from British director, James Griffiths, who owes a lot to his wholly invested cast. Not so much an underdog story as opposed to someone rediscovering their zest for life, this smart, sexy and very, very silly film is the perfect ticket for Valentine’s Day.
(4 / 5) CUBAN FURY is released in UK cinemas on Friday 14th February, 2014. Check out our interviews from the World Premiere, here.