Lovable big cuddly teddy bear of an actor-bloke that he is, if Nick Frost asked you to do something, you’d probably say yes.
Unless it was something really awful, like recreating Jonny Wilkinson’s World Cup-winning drop goal using a kitten as the ball, thereby sending baby-cat guts spraying all over your local playing field. But then if Nick Frost asked you to do something really awful like that, he wouldn’t be the lovable big cuddly teddy bear of an actor-bloke everyone and their Nan agrees he is, would he?
So with Frost being, in his own way, as difficult to say “No” to as Margot Robbie stripped down to nowt but her socks and stilettos, it’s hardly surprising that when he sent a late night email to Shaun of the Dead and Attack the Block producer Nira Park, pitching himself as unlikely lead in a hip-shaking rom-com, her response was in the positive.
And lo and behold, here that rom-com is, trading under the title Cuban Fury, and starring not just Frost, as erstwhile child salsa sensation Bruce Garrett, but also Ian McShane as his gravel-gruff former coach, Chris O’Dowd as his obnoxious cock of a co-worker, and The Social Network’s Rashida Jones as Julia, who is both Bruce’s new boss at the engineering firm where he works and the object of his affections.
The film opens with Bruce giving us the story of his downfall 27 years previously, when as a 13-year-old, he, sister Sam (played in adulthood by Olivia Colman) and their mentor, Ron (McShane), stood perched on the cusp of dance floor glory – only for a pack of bullies to force a fistful of sequins down Bruce’s gullet, putting him off salsa for life.
Or so it seems, until he meets Julia, and her liking for a spot of soft-shoe shuffle threatens to reignite the passion which once burned in Bruce so very, very brightly.
Now, if you’re thinking ‘Hmm, using just those last 165 words of description and the tone-setting poster image of Frost’s girthsome frame navigated into a pair of tight slacks and sparkly shirt, I reckon I could have a fair old crack at writing this movie myself,’ then by golly, Miss Molly, you’d be abso-bloody-lutely slap-tiddly bang-on.
Y’see, as scripted by Misfits and Fresh Meat writer Jon Brown, Cuban Fury sticks rigidly to screenwriting manual formula with all the dogmatic zeal of a shouty religious fanatic.
Bruce’s journey from zero to hero, not to mention the mild tribulations and modest chuckles along the way, is by-the-numbers, save-the-cat, plot point-tastic in that strange way British films often seem to really pride themselves on – as if a pat on the head from Robert McKee is something to aspire to above all other worldly delights and heavenly pleasures.
The off-the-shelf nature of the supporting characters doesn’t help lift the stale air of overfamiliarity, in spite of the quality of the actors playing them. McShane finds himself stuck as an affectionately gruff stereotype. Colman is an affectionately supportive stereotype. Rory Kinnear is an affectionately blokey stereotype, and Kayvan Novak is an affectionately camp stereotype.
What this means is Cuban Fury is forced to lean heavily on its leading man’s innate likeability and, stout fellow that he is, Frost actually does a pretty good job of bearing the load.
His is a presence you just instinctively warm to, unlike so many other male British actors. He’s not egocentric. He’s not vain. He’s not posh. He’s not posh-pretending-not-to-be-posh in that puke-inducing “Alwight mate” kinda way.
His screen persona leaves you sure that if you went down the pub together, you’d both have a bloody good laugh. Which is not something you’d say of, ooh, to pick another British actor completely at random, Jude Law.
So, okay, Cuban Fury is deeply predictable fare, lazily wallowing in the comfort offered by its clichés. It certainly won’t linger long in the memory once the final salsa dancer has shaken their ass. But in spite of its lack of originality, it’s still a likeable Brit-com, with romance in its soul and a twinkle in its toes.
Cuban Fury is released in the UK on 14th February