** (out of four)
Hollywood’s vault is lined with fish-out-of-water stories. But seriously, is it too much to ask for a premise that's more than just “fat guy dancing”?
Based on an original idea from star Nick Frost (“The World’s End”), “Cuban Fury” is a dance movie that, were it to completely lack imagination, could be expected to include a training montage, a climactic competition and a jerky co-worker. Oh wait.
Frost plays Bruce, who as a kid loved the energy and flavor of salsa dancing. Then a gang of bullies beat his passion out of him and, kinda like Butters on “South Park,” he hasn’t shaken much of anything in 25 years. Few would after being forced to eat sequins.
Future Bruce, a sexless wallflower whose only zone is one of comfort, discovers that his beautiful new boss (Rashida Jones) also loves salsa. For a moment, it’s a mashup of two subjects with which this shy guy won’t engage—women and the rhythm. But childhood trauma and Bruce’s d-bag colleague (Chris O’Dowd) be damned! Bruce looks up his salty old teacher (Ian McShane) to verify the time-honored adage about putting yourself out there.
This is a story that advocates for fire and inspiration—then almost completely goes through the motions. Aside from Bruce’s one requisite tumble, “Cuban Fury” isn’t some ruthless, cartoonish poke at its round hero’s curves. (Note that the film does not star Kevin James.) There are many sighs and a few laughs, none of which come from Bruce’s flamboyant classmate (Kayvan Novak), forced into the story for maximum ethnically insensitive sassiness.
Speaking of forced: The chemistry between Frost and Jones. Yeesh. I’m not saying these two couldn’t theoretically get together in a movie. Love is blind, dancing is an aphrodisiac and comedies frequently combine a portly schlub and a gorgeous woman who’d never be expected to give him a first (or second) look. First-time feature director James Griffiths and first-time feature writer Jon Brown simply show no confidence in this pairing, hinging their stars’ interactions around accidental collisions and—spoiler alert, I guess—preferring not to let the two even kiss.
Would anyone believe this couple would get hot and heavy? I don’t know. Bruce calls her a 10, and himself a 2. She’s remarkably beautiful and he, honestly, looks like the plump mouse from “Cinderella” come to life. But most importantly, if your movie doesn’t believe the guy should get the girl, the audience won’t either.
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