Dance, Judge Gordon Sullivan, Dance!
Man up. Dance off.
Given how important childhood is, it's a shame we don't have more control over it. Sometimes kids go through terrible trauma and end up perfectly well adjusted, while other kids obsess over something that appears minor and end up neurotics for life. The problem is that we don't know what paths our childhood actions will leads us down. In the case of Cuban Fury, a bullying incident keeps a young Nick Frost from pursuing his dreams of dancing glory, but as an adult he tries his hand (or feet) again. It's a goofy premise that carries along a rom-com formula. Though it's a pretty standard mixture of sports-drama and rom-com, Cuban Fury harnesses a great cast for a fun evening's entertainment.
Bruce (Nick Frost, Shaun of the Dead) could have been a contender at the Junior Salsa Championships, but a group of bullies beat him at the wrong moment and he hangs up his outfit. Now he's an adult, and he's still feeling bullied by those around him. His situation comes to a head when Julia (Rashida Jones, Parks and Recreation) arrives as Bruce's new boss. He's immediately smitten, but office smooth-talker Drew (Chris O'Dowd, Bridesmaids) intends to get there first. After finding out that Julia is interested in dancing, Bruce returns to his old dance instructor (Ian McShane, Scoop) to see if he still has what it takes to win a dance competition and hopefully Julia's heart.
I don't know what Nick Frost's calendar is like, but he's got to be in a slightly awkward position. As Simon Pegg's rotund sidekick he's been at the forefront of some of the best comedies of the last decade. He's also had a few memorable supporting roles away from Pegg, and made his mark as a writer. But he hasn't had a break-out role as a leading man. Though Cuban Fury isn't that break-out film, it does put Frost at the center of a comedy that he basically owns. The idea was his—he's always wanted to make a dance movie—and it's his show from beginning to end.
The film largely works because Frost and the rest of the filmmakers genuinely seem to respect dance films. Just as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz gently send-up their genre forbearers while revealing a love and dedication to them, Cuban Fury genuinely revels in its sports-themed narrative arc. Frost apparently took several months to train as a dancer, and though he's not the usual image of the flamboyant salsa dancer, neither does he play the typical overweight-guy-tries-to-dance character; the film makes clear that it's as much about heart as it is about weight. Though obviously the film is played for laughs, there's a sincerity to Frost's performance that permeates the film.
The rest of the cast benefits from Frost's sincerity. Rashida Jones is perfectly cast as the American love interest. She has a down-to-earth quality that makes her seem appropriate as a match for Bruce despite his shyness. Those only familiar with Chris O'Dowd from his mainstream film roles in Bridesmaids or Thor: The Dark World will be shocked that he plays the jerk role here. Ian McShane is watchable in just about anything these days, but casting him as a dance instructor is an inspired choice. Even Simon Pegg shows up for a brief cameo. Together the cast commit to the material, making it much easier to accept the tired sports narrative.
The film also gets a really solid Blu-ray release. The 2.40:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is top-notch. Detail is really strong, and colors are especially impressive. Salsa dancing involves a lot bright costumes and they come through without smearing or bleeding. Black levels in the darker dance scenes are deep and consistent, with plenty of shadow detail. Overall it's a really great transfer that does the film justice. The DTS-HD 5.1 track is just as good. We get an immersive salsa experience, with rich and detailed music throughout the soundfield. Dynamic range and low end are both great, and everything is balanced with the film's dialogue. Subtitles are included for those who have trouble with non-American accents.
Extras start with a series of behind-the-scenes featurettes that give us a little over 10 minutes on the making of the film, including interviews with the film's principles. Another set of featurettes look at Frost's dance training, giving us 12 or so minutes of Frost getting gradually better as a dancer. A Q&A with Nick Frost delves into the film's origins and a couple of promos along with the film's trailer round out the extras.
Cuban Fury is a standard, some might even say trite underdog sports movie. It doesn't try to do much in terms of upsetting the formula besides casting most of the actors against type. Those not interested in dance or tired of sports narrative need not apply. Those who dislike Nick Frost (or any of the actors, really) will similarly be disappointed. The film also wears its British origins with pride, taking a dry approach to the humor rather than the more farcical approach of many Hollywood comedies.
Cuban Fury is a surprisingly affecting little dance comedy that skillfully balances the sports-underdog plot with its rom-com aspirations. It might be a bit too British for those looking for a broad comedy, but any fans of the actors or dance movies should definitely check it out.
It has a lot of heart. Not guilty.
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