This is no Dirty Dancing
When dance films are well choreographed, they can jive happily into our affections.
A fresh-faced John Travolta swivelled to perfection in 1977’s Saturday Night Fever and six years later Jennifer Beals traded her welder’s mask for ballet pumps in the sweat-drenched Flashdance.
Dirty Dancing sent 1980s teenagers into a swoon as Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey performed that iconic overhead lift to the rousing (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life.
Australian director Baz Luhrmann was king of the dancefloor in 1992 with Strictly Ballroom and more recently, Jamie Bell proved a miner’s son likes to boogie in Oscar-nominated fairytale Billy Elliot.
Now, Nick Frost kicks up his heels in Cuban Fury, a rags-to-sequins tale of a one-time dance champion, who rediscovers his mojo in order to impress a woman.
Jon Brown’s script owes a debt of gratitude to Luhrmann, replacing the smouldering glances of the Paso Doble with the seductive sway of salsa.
As a teenager, Bruce Garrett (Frost) won trophies with his sister Sam (Olivia Colman) under the tutelage of dance teacher Ron Parfitt (Ian McShane). Alas, at the height of their success, Bruce suffered horribly at the hands of bullies and quit dancing forever.
“That fire in my heels, it just went out,” he tells Ron tearfully.
Twenty-five years later, Bruce designs lathes and enjoys infrequent nights out with best mates Gary (Rory Kinnear) and Mickey (Tim Plester).
The arrival of new boss Julia (Rashida Jones) kindles a spark of life in Bruce but he knows she’s too good for him.
“She’s a 10, I’m a two,” he tells Gary and Mickey. “It’s an eight-point swing, like a butterfly going out with a parsnip.”
When he learns that Julia loves to salsa, Bruce nervously heads back to the dance floor in the company of outrageously camp buddy Bejan (Kayvan Novak).
However, chauvinistic work colleague Drew (Chris O’Dowd) also has his sights set on Julia, crassly informing Bruce: “I’m gonna leave a stink on her that she’s never going to get off!”
Cuban Fury means well and has its heart in the right place.
Unfortunately, the script performs horrible missteps with some of the peripheral characters.
Also director James Griffiths introduces fantastical flourishes including a dance battle in a car park between Bruce and Drew complete with gravity-defying somersaults and friction-defying 50m knee-skids on asphalt that take away from the countless hours of work invested by the cast perfecting the complicated routines.
O’Dowd’s nemesis is grotesque while Jones’s love interest is too thinly sketched to deserve Bruce’s fragile heart.
Frost’s everyman is instantly likeable though and we root for him to emerge victorious on the dance floor when the rest of the film threatens to fall apart.
Comedy/Romance. Nick Frost, Rashida Jones, Chris O’Dowd, Ian McShane, Olivia Colman, Kayvan Novak, Rory Kinnear, Tim Plester, Wendi McLendon-Covey. Director: James Griffiths.