Nick Frost. Rashida Jones. Chris O'Dowd. Ian McShane. I'm a fan of all four of these actors, and they've all done work I greatly admire. Frost's collaborations with Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright (Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World's End) rank as some of the most innovatively energetic comedies of the 21st century. Jones recently co-wrote and starred in Celeste & Jesse Forever, one of the freshest rom-coms I've seen in recent years. O'Dowd has been an MVP in almost everything he's appeared in, doing particularly memorable work on the British sitcom The IT Crowd. McShane's work on Deadwood is, in my humble estimation, one of the most iconic performances in television history. As such, it's something of a crushing disappointment that Cuban Fury – which stars all four of these talented individuals – is such an irritating, flimsy movie.
Frost plays Bruce, an overweight, mild-mannered engineer who endures constant persecution from his alpha male co-worker Drew (Chris O'Dowd). When Bruce was a teenager, he had a passion for competitive salsa dancing, but gave up after months of being bullied by cruel classmates. He hasn't stepped foot on the dance floor since, and his current physical condition plays a significant role in preventing him from having any desire to do so again. However, when Bruce learns that his attractive new boss Julia (Rashida Jones) is a salsa enthusiast, he determines to give his old hobby another shot. Alas, he's gotten very rusty and forgotten most of what he once learned, so he turns to his irascible former dance instructor Ron (Ian McShane) for assistance. Meanwhile, Drew works tirelessly to bed Julia before Bruce works up the nerve to reveal his feelings.
There's a solid little romantic comedy to be mined from that premise, I suppose, but Cuban Fury is such an aggressively unpleasant little film. There are a number of factors that play a role in this, but one stands tall above the other: Chris O'Dowd's performance as Drew. He's such an loathsome, mean-spirited character than he crushes the film's attempts at lightweight charm. He's meant to be enjoyably awful, but O'Dowd so effectively captures a man you'd hate spending time with that you actually hate spending time with him. Making matters worse is the fact that the character's actions are so consistently repulsive that he quickly ceases to feel convincing; instead turning into a toxic plot device designed to keep Bruce from achieving his goals before the film's 90-minute mark. Entertaining movies have been made about romantic duels between two men in love/lust with the same woman (Billy Wilder's joyously silly Some Like It Hot springs to mind), but this is not one of them.
Elsewhere – and on a less significant level – the movie suffers from run-of-the-mill formulaic construction. It's possible to overcome a generic plot structure (both this movie and Silver Linings Playbook predictably build to a sequence in which a guy tries to win the heart of a girl at a dance competition, and the latter was a screwball delight), but Cuban Fury isn't fun enough, distinctive enough or smart enough to do so. Bruce stammers his way through early encounters with Julia, quietly swears to himself after frustrating encounters with Drew and stumbles his way through early dance lessons with Ron, each moment feeling like a bland stepping stone to an overfamiliar destination. Stray lines or facial expressions inspire a smile or even a chuckle here and there, but the film fumbles all of its significant goals.
The film is based on an idea by Frost, which was subsequently turned into a screenplay by Jon Brown. It's easy to understand why Frost wanted to play this character (easily the most interesting and well-defined in the film), but not why he felt that such a character would be best served by this sort of story. Frost and his long-time pal Simon Pegg (who makes a funny, blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo appearance here) have done brilliant work together, but have often struggled to find worthwhile star vehicles separately. If their collaborations with Edgar Wright are the cinematic equivalent of Beatles albums, Cuban Fury is one of Ringo Starr's later solo efforts.
Rating: ★½ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 98 minutes
Release Year: 2014