After slugging his way through zombie attacks, police shoot-outs and multiple alien invasions with simply only sidekick status, Nick Frost finally prances into the limelight in his first lead performance, tackling his most dangerous encounter yet: salsa dancing.
The product of his own original idea, Cuban Fury stands as a clear vehicle for Frost’s own comedic talents. After stealing our hearts as the adorably dim accomplice to Simon Pegg in Shaun Of The Dead, Frost’s career seemed to go anywhere but up. But now, out on his own for the first time, it’s clear to see exactly what we’ve been missing.
Frost takes on the guise of former dance star Bruce, now an overworked and overweight sad-sack forced to while away the hours playing petty games with his directionless friends. When his new boss, American hottie Julia (Rashida Jones), expresses a love for salsa dancing, Bruce finally decides to dust off his shoes and sequins and mount a comeback to take control of his life (and Julia’s heart) once and for all. Throw in an on-form and sensationally detestable Chris O’Dowd as Bruce’s co-worker/nemesis, and Cuban Fury ticks all of the boxes for a standard British underdog story.
However, despite its initially formulaic approach and cardboard characters, Cuban Fury has a certain fire hidden deep within. As Bruce stumbles through the standard training montages and rousing speeches, something quite unexpected begins to surface in the form of genuine emotion. Frost’s eyes tell it all; like Bruce, he’s sick of being shunted to the back and hidden from view, he wants to make a difference and have a purpose. He wants to be seen and Frost firmly embraces this element of the character, delivering an incredibly lovable performance and really seizing this first opportunity to shine.
Unfortunately, with so much soul being dominated by Frost, many of the supporting roles appear a little flimsy in comparison. A lively Olivia Colman is underused and under-valued as Bruce’s wise sister Sam, whilst the biggest waste of all is the fantastically demanding Ian McShane as Bruce’s former mentor. It’s a playful little role that could have been far more excessive than the restrained result. In fact, much of Fury often feels this way: underplayed and far too subdued. One phenomenal car-park showdown aside, this film is begging for some much-needed absurdity.
Despite the suppressed extravagance though, support must be shown for first time feature writer Jon Brown and his basic but charming script that plods along with plenty of clever laughs and a measurably decent pace. Brown’s partnership with the film’s director, fellow fresh-faced TV graduate James Griffiths, helps to build a low profile, allowing the British roots of the film’s story to really shine through and give Frost the ability to create the most authentic persona possible.
Of course as the title and subject may suggest, the real star of Cuban Fury is in fact the dancing on display. Griffiths does a fantastic job of showing the dance sequences in all their unbroken clarity, showcasing the stunning skills of the cast and really ramping up the wonder of the art. It’s clear that Frost and the others are really dancing for a large proportion of the film and their efforts pay off to great effect. There’s no jarring cuts or blatant doubling here, just smooth and seamless sequences that blend fabulously into the narrative.
As typical as it may appear on first glance, Cuban Fury is a delightful and chirpy new slice of British comedy, with a stand-out lead performance that can only win praise. Hopefully this is the first of many for Nick Frost, who shows his true talents both in front of and behind the laughter. A sweet and satisfying salsa comedy that really sparkles.
Cuban Fury (2014), directed by James Griffiths, is released in the UK by StudioCanal, Certificate 15.