20 February 2014

CUBAN FURY- Review

It's not too much of a stretch of the imagination to see Cuban Fury being conceived differently. It might as easily have been either a mirthless Kevin James vehicle where the humour never rises above a fat man injuring himself and becoming sort of competent as he goes along, or as the kind of earnest, disposable ITV comedy drama that has since been superseded by the channel's dedication to crime dramas and half-hour sitcoms.

Arriving in the form that it has, based on an idea by a drunken Nick Frost, it actually does a serviceable job of straddling those two extremes and comes out much sweeter. Frost plays Bruce Garrett, a former salsa-dancing prodigy who threw it all away after one traumatic incident. Approaching 40, he's shy and unfulfilled, but a crush on his dance-fan boss Julia puts the fire back in his heels, and he decides to take up the salsa again, in a bid to woo her away from a womanising colleague.

To say that it's sweet doesn't necessarily preclude that it's not funny, but there's definitely something lacking here, and it takes a little time to realise what that is. It's interesting that Frost's first real solo project mirrors his Cornetto buddy Simon Pegg's Run, Fat Boy, Run, in spoofing sports movie tropes in a romcom setting, but we've seen a few movies like this, complete with flatpack supporting characters drawn from the Richard Curtis furniture catalogue. Rashida Jones, Olivia Colman and Rory Kinnear are all fine as Bruce's love interest, sister and daft best mate, respectively, but as written, they're all too familiar.

But they all have opposite numbers in originality too, and it's in these characters that the comedy really comes to life. Ian McShane bristles as a drunken, board-game-loving mentor, Kayvan Novak nearly steals the show as a fellow salsa enthusiast, and Chris O'Dowd tears up his nice guy image as Bruce's sleazy rival, Drew. In Novak's case in particular, he's doing what seems like an easy character- the only male dancer in the film who seems even slightly effeminate- but he's only making it look easy. It feels like an age since we saw his breakthrough performance in Four Lions, and it feels like he's overdue a big-screen comedy vehicle of his own.

The film only ever seems to come up short after we've seen it at its best, in a visually audacious dance-fight between Bruce and Drew, which nearly hares into Scott Pilgrim territory. Aside from having more laughs than any other scene, it's the best choreographed action scene I've seen in ages. Therein lies the rub- the film doesn't need to be this original all the way through, and so it's not. But once you've seen that scene, it colours the by-numbers charm of what went before, and what follows, in a way that makes it all look somewhat pedestrian.

Through it all, the film's real success is Frost's- he came up with the idea, and its his turn that keeps the final product going. Between this and The World's End, he's breaking out of his daft sidekick typecast, and showing off his versatility as a comic actor. What differentiates Bruce from some Kevin James buffoon is that the audience is on his side right from the start, as we see his self-esteem being plowed away by bullies to the point where he spends his evenings alone, eating four pots of yoghurt at once. Plus, Frost has clearly put work into learning to salsa, (if only to a fifth-week-of-Strictly standard) and even if the central joke is about a fat man dancing, it's never mean-spirited.

Cuban Fury may be more like a Run, Fat Boy, Run, than a Dodgeball or Blades Of Glory, but there's nothing essentially wrong with that. We knew that Frost would be a likeable, self-deprecating lead, and that he would contrast beautifully with O'Dowd's abominable lech, and likewise with McShane's stern, salsa-ing Yoda figure. There are a great many more things we could probably foretell before seeing the film, but it's constantly buoyed by its feelgood factor. You may not laugh as many times as you would like, but this one can be recommended purely on its ability to make you smile.

Cuban Fury is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
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I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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