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“Cuban Fury” follows a well-worn formula: Two men compete for a woman. One of them (Chris O’Dowd as Drew) is supposedly studly but shallow. The other man (Nick Frost as Bruce) is schlubby but has a heart of gold. Guess who wins?
It all starts about 25 years in the past, when the young Bruce is a rising teenage salsa dance star in Britain. On his way to a big competition, however, Bruce runs into a gang of kids who think he’s wearing way too much sequins. So they knock him down and make him eat the sparkly things. A devastated Bruce calls his dance mentor (Ian McShane) and turns in his dancing shoes.
Fast forward to the present, and an out-of-shape Bruce is riding his bicycle to work at an office where he’s pestered and bullied by Drew. Bruce has never really recovered from giving up on his childhood dreams, and he has no romantic life at all.
Then, Bruce and Drew get a new boss from the United States, Julia (Rashida Jones), and both are smitten. Drew just wants to make a sexual conquest, but Bruce sees something more in Julia. And then he learns that she has a secret passion: salsa dancing.
So Bruce does what you would expect. He goes back to his dancing mentor, begs forgiveness and begins the long road back to being a good salsa dancer — with the obvious goal of winning Julia’s heart. And yes, we have to watch a rather poorly done montage of Bruce’s training. He’s not exactly Rocky, and the regimen isn’t nearly as thrilling.
The only bright spot during this period is a fellow salsa dancer (Kayvan Novak) who befriends Bruce and tries to give him tips on personal grooming.
But the biggest problem with “Cuban Fury” has nothing to do with the actors and everything to do with the script by Jon Brown and the direction of James Griffiths, both of whom are trying their hand at feature films after television careers. They’re simply not up to the challenge.
The dialogue isn’t funny. The comedic timing between Bruce and Drew is way off. And some of the scenes are painful to watch. O’Dowd, who charmed us as the cop in “Bridesmaids,” has to play a shallow character who has nothing significant or funny to say. Jones, who’s justifiably popular for her role in television’s “Parks and Recreation,” is stuck with an underwritten role. And it’s a sin to waste the talents of McShane (“Deadwood”) as the dancing mentor.
The climactic salsa scenes help “Cuban Fury,” at least a little bit. And Frost, who has made a name for himself playing second banana in such films as “Shaun of the Dead” and “Attack the Block,” is predictably likable as Bruce. But overall, this movie is out-of-step.