Director: James Griffiths
Screenwriter: Jon Brown based on an original idea by Nick Frost
Runtime: 98 mins.
Australian release date: 20 March 2014
If you want to see a film about an obese male whose work-mate is an insensitive bully vying for the attention of the woman he loves, then Cuban Fury, by the British television director James Griffiths, is for you. Unlike films like One Chance or Billy Elliot, where the central character also has to jump through a series of social hoops to achieve success, this rather lame film doesn’t grab at the heart strings. It may have something to do with the two protagonists, Drew (Chris O’Dowd), a nasty prat who has the most unfunny, misogynistic lines, and Bruce Garrett (Nick Frost) who is struggling to become a hero, but who isn’t endearing enough to win the audience’s affection.
In 1987, Bruce was in the running to win the UK Junior Salsa Championship until he was beaten up on the way to the competition. This nasty experience effectively ended his career and he chose to abandon the sequins and deft footwork that went with his passion for salsa. Twenty-two years later, we re-meet Bruce, now a designer of industrial lathes working in an environment where his every move is scrutinised by his colleague Drew, a right bully who makes you cringe every time he comes on screen. The arrival of their new boss, Julia (Rashida Jones) revs up the acrimony between the two men when Drew makes a play for Julia and Bruce decides to take up salsa again, once he realises that she is keen on Latin dancing.
Bruce gets in touch with his former teacher, the likeable but roguish Ron Parfait (Ian McShane), who sports a fine set of tombstone molars and has a penchant for neat vodka. After some initial difficulty, Bruce gets back into the swing of things quite deftly, considering he is now rather hefty and he hasn’t ‘cut a rug’ for years. At his salsa class, he befriends a very ‘out’ gay man, Bejan (Kayvan Novak), who wouldn’t be out of place in a Pedro Almodóvar movie. Bejan has the best camp lines and is responsible for most of the film’s laughs.
Unfortunately, none of this sustains Cuban Fury enough to recommend parting with the price of a ticket; it is so gross in part that at times you could detect a silent scream going through the preview audience. Even though there is some fine cinematography by Dick Pope and, not surprisingly, a great Latin soundtrack, the film never quite overcomes the limitations of Jon Brown’s jarring script. The only redeeming factor is that you come out of this knowing that salsa is not “only for pussies!”