‘Cuban Fury’ feels more like a sombrero-wearing knockoff tribute act than a true-blue Mexican mariachi band, says Simon Mernagh.
Director James Griffiths, known as the driving force behind the 2011 BBC2 comedy, Episodes, dips his toes into the murky world of film with Cuban Fury, in which former salsa prodigy-turned-engineer Bruce (Nick Frost) must unearth his repressed dancer mojo to woo his new boss Julia (Rashida Jones), all the while suffering the constant put-downs hurled his way by colleague Drew (Chris O’Dowd). He can dance, he can jive, but will Bruce have the time of his life?
As one half of the consistently great, amiable duo behind Paul and the ‘Cornetto Trilogy’, Nick Frost’s first breakaway project from longtime collaborator Simon Pegg (he’s also an executive producer here) is a disappointedly languid affair, devoid of brains, bite and, most damningly, belly-laughs.
Cuban Fury proves that as likeable as he may come across, Frost just isn’t a leading man, and he’s an awkward fit for this role. Bruce is a pleasant, good-natured chap, neither dumb nor obnoxious, which are the actor’s tried-and-tested dual modes. Frost rather embarrassingly spends much of the film struggling to wrench some semblance of comedy out of a distinctly mediocre role.
Of all the supporting characters, only Bruce’s sister and early dance partner Carly (Wendi McLendon-Covey) is fleshed-out in any meaningful way. Drew’s desperately unfunny and uncomfortable jokes (“tranny”, anyone?) rarely land, while Julia’s sole attribute, her defining characteristic, is her love of salsa. The Parks and Recreation co-star’s movie career remains very much in its infant phase.
Bruce and Drew’s jabs at one another culminate in a singularly clunky, stiff and bizarre dance-off in a multi-storey car park. It brings to mind a similarly unsuccessful scene from the all-too-recent disaster that was The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which I haven’t recovered from yet.
It’s a dance-comedy, so the token gay character is about as subtle as a brick in the face. Kayvan Novak (pictured above) as over-the-top dancing queen, Bejan offers occasional and much-needed humour, but his more heartfelt moments are sacrificed at the altar of ridiculousness. The ‘look at how gay he is’ shtick is growing seriously old.
This dearth of wit is Cuban Fury’s fatal flaw – everyone involved is a comedy veteran who earned their stripes elsewhere, but there’s a limit to how much gold comedians can spin out of a junk script. It’s telling that Simon Pegg’s blink-and-you-miss-it cameo is among the few laugh-getters.
It’s not unreasonable to expect a certain degree of quality or originality from the co-creator of classics like Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, but this is precisely what Cuban Fury is lacking. It’s not horrible, and takes no longer than 98 minutes to get through, but your cash could be better spent elsewhere. Take salsa dance classes instead. Or don’t.
Cuban Fury opens at cinemas nationwide on Friday, February 14
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