Directed by: James Griffiths
Starring: Nick Frost, Chris O’Dowd, Rashida Jones, Olivia Colman
There has been a lot written about the British film industry in the past few weeks, some of it good, some of it less so. Domestic films and talent are picking up awards around the globe but misleading figures suggest the vast majority of UK productions fail to turn a profit. Sitting in between, Cuban Fury at least proves one thing. We can take a number of talented people and turn in the same glossy romantic comedy rubbish that Hollywood churns out at a prodigious rate.
It is always good to see Nick Frost headlining a film, although here he makes for the most unlikeliest of salsa dancers. A child champion with his sister (Olivia Colman), Frost’s Bruce suffered a scarring experience with sequins and a group of bullies that put him off the thing he loved the most. After bluntly cutting off contact with his trainer Ron (Ian McShane), he has settled in for a life lived in fear, unwilling to take a chance on anything.
Working as a lathe engineer, his world is finally shaken up with the arrival of a new boss from America. Julia (Rashida Jones) is the unattainable dream that he cannot stop from wanting. Desperately lacking in confidence, he makes a return to the dance floor after discovering Julia shares his old passion but finds himself in a battle for her affections with his deeply unpleasant colleague Drew (Chris O’Dowd).
The initial idea for Cuban Fury came about after a drunken email from Frost to his producer Nina Park. While this makes for a good anecdote, it goes some way towards explaining all that is wrong with the film. This slender central premise might have made for a good comic sketch, but a feature film pushes it well beyond breaking point. There is simply not enough content, comedic or dramatic, to sustain interest.
That being said, Frost makes for a likeable lead. To be fair, Frost is always likeable, a master by now at playing the loveable loser. He does not have to do all the heavy lifting himself either. James Griffiths’ film trades profitably on a number of performances with Frost and O’Dowd’s antagonistic relationship the best of the lot. Elsewhere, Jones is charming and McShane as curmudgeonly as ever. There are even a couple of opportunities for Colman to work her usual magic, although she remains criminally underused for the most part.
If the film’s core is just an extended comic sketch, it is one that still yields some good moments. The main set piece is a wonderfully ridiculous dance off for Julia’s hand between Bruce and Drew in the staff car park. It fizzes with energy absent from the majority of the film. There are also a number of great throwaway lines and further opportunities for Frost to enhance scenes with his cheeky glances, frustrated mutterings and petulant complaints.
But it is still a sketch, full to the brim with cultural stereotypes and flat stretches. Bruce gets a clichéd camp salsa friend (Kayvan Novak), a clichéd blokes bloke of a best mate (Rory Kinnear) and a clichéd colleague steeped in jaded cynicism (Alexandra Roach). It is extremely lazy writing that actually manages to draw more attention to the lack of jokes and poorly conceived romance.
Slot Cuban Fury into a late night TV sketch comedy and you might just manage a good few minutes of laughter. Make a full film and there are still only a good few minutes of laughter broken up by seemingly endless filler. This is one of those drunken emails that cause only embarrassment and regret the morning after.