At first look, Cuban Fury appears like one of those guilty pleasures that doesn’t need much justification beyond the fact that it’ll make audiences laugh. But, in what isn’t entirely unsurprising for a comedy starring Nick Frost, there is a lot more to like.
The movie tells the story of Bruce Garrett (Nick Frost), a lathe designer who was a gifted salsa dancer as a child but gave up on his dream when he was beaten to a pulp by bullies on his way to the UK National Salsa Championship. Although he enjoys technical drawing, he is a man without confidence and joy, a lack of spirit that is only made worse by the constant bullying coming his way courtesy of work colleague and alpha male Drew (Chris O’Dowd). When new boss Julia (Rashida Jones) arrives from the US and reveals that she loves salsa, Bruce’s heart skips a beat. He decides to go back to his old dance teacher Ron Parfait (Ian McShane) to freshen up on his moves so he can win Julia over with his passion. Drew, ever the restrained gentleman, meanwhile proudly proclaims he will do everything in his power to sleep with her.
There isn’t much more of a plot to the film, and that is perfectly fine because it lives off of its silly slapstick humour and the cast’s willingness to make fools out of themselves. Cuban Fury certainly lacks some of the craziness of Frost’s work with Simon Pegg, but it has just as much charm. In case you are wondering (and of course you are): yes, Simon Pegg does have a cameo appearance, and it’ll make you laugh out loud because it makes an absurd moment even stranger.
One of the film’s best features is that Bruce Garrett isn’t simply the chubby loser who has to convince his love interest that he’s a better man than the misogynist liar she’s currently hanging out with; it is, in fact, clear from the onset that Julia has taken a liking to him (even if he, in his lack of confidence, can’t see it). Refreshingly, and contrary to stereotypical rom-coms, the supporting cast receives great treatment, too. While Olivia Colman does a good job of the sort-of-alcoholic sister Sam, the true star is Kayvan Novak as over-the-top flamboyant Bejan, a fellow salsa dancer who befriends Bruce. You could even go as far as claiming that Novak steals the scene each moment that he is on screen, whether he is talking about throwing a grenade into some “bitches” at the club, or casually mentioning that he has to leave for his ball-wax appointment.
Frost and O’Dowd play well off of each other, but it is in the climactic dance-off on the roof that they both come into their own and deliver the fight that may just be the reason for the film’s Cuban Fury title. “What happens at lunch stays at lunch” they proclaim before proceeding to show off their dance skills to each other in increasingly ridiculous moves all the way to backflips. If you want absurdly silly, this is it.
Frost and O’Dowd both impress, unsurprisingly, with their comedic timing, and it is always fun to see lovable nerd Roy (O’Dowd’s career-making role in the televisio sitcom The IT Crowd) playing a sleazy low-life. The film may stick closely to that of an underdog story, but it is nice to see that Cuban Fury isn’t simply a love story. In fact, it isn’t actually one at all: it’s really about a man finding the confidence to pursue his dreams and stand up to his bullies.
Frost’s first solo outing is a feel-good comedy and a true pleasure to watch. The cast shines and, although it starts off slow, the dialogue gets funnier as the movie progresses. Kayvan Novak’s Bejan needs a spin-off, and it wouldn’t be entirely disastrous if Nick Frost made more movies without Simon Pegg. Cuban Fury is an endearing British comedy – not the best one ever made, but certainly a solid attempt.