' ' Cinema Romantico: Cuban Fury

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Cuban Fury

The Simon Pegg cameo in “Cuban Fury” really bothers me. It bothers me because it’s entirely tangential in that Hitchcock sorta way where Alfred would make cameos in his movies not with any sort of relevancy toward the story but with “Hey! Look! It’s me! I’m here!” braggadocio. And while Pegg’s cameo isn’t that smarmy, it’s still too “Where’s Waldo?” for a film that his longtime cinematic comrade Nick Frost is fronting. Now I understand that in opening the review by mentioning the cameo I am, in fact, indulging in the cameo when indulging is precisely what the cameo itself is doing and yet…… I open by talking about the cameo because I wish to impart that for all its faults, “Cuban Fury” still proves that Frost doesn’t need his famed provocateur-in-arms for assistance.

Granted, it’s a shame that Frost, the roly poly English funnyman, could not have found a better vehicle to demonstrate his abilities as a so-called Leading Man. Frost garners a “story by” credit but the screenwriter was Jon Brown and the director was James Griffiths, but even if Salsa music was born of Cuba and even if “the history of Cuban music is one of cultural collisions,” as Ned Sublette once opined, “of voluntary and forced migrations, of religions and revolutions”, well, this “Cuban Fury” is more interested in being “Saturday Night Fever” by way of “Blades of Glory.”

In his youth, Frost’s Bruce (“from the old English saxon, meaning bush, or hedge”) had feet of Salsa dancing fury. Then bullies made him eat the sequins on his dancing outfit and he called it quits. Now it’s years later and he’s a drone at some interchangeable company for some priggish supervisor Drew (Chris O’Dowd). Until, that is, their new company president, striking American Julia Matthews (Rashida Jones) saunters in and reveals herself as a paramour of the Salsa, prompting Bruce to sets his sights on winning fair lady’s heart by seeking out his old mentor (Ian McShane, who gruffly and effortlessly makes us believe he’s sitting on an entirely intriguing story that needs to be told), re-Salsafying and remembering who he really is.

“Cuban Fury” is predictable. It founders on a series of under-imagined montages featuring Bruce kicking up his heels to Latin-styled beats while he and boorish Drew become romantic rivals for Julia’s affection, which leads us directly to the film’s overriding problem. I don’t necessarily believe that Brown and Griffiths set out to create a female character defined entirely by her pseudo-romantic entanglement because I don’t necessarily believe that they thought about the film from the perspective of Julia which might very well rule the first half of this very sentence out of order. I mean, she’s their supervisor. They are under her guidance. Yet the film ridiculously makes it seem the other way around by reducing her to a mere object of affection of her underlings. She can run a whole company but she’s still defined by her romantic status because this is 2014 and……wait, what?

What’s worse, by forcing her into this triangle, the script excepts us to believe that she would be drawn toward Drew, which is absurd because Drew, as played by O’Dowd, is a chauvinist buffoon and Julia, as played by Jones, is pure class. You don’t suspend your disbelief when the entire subplot is patently and moronically offensive.

Still, in spite of its uninventive underdog formula and unfortunate inattention to its female protagonist, “Cuban Fury” has Nick Frost, and he has a winning everyman appeal. It’s reminiscent of a Kevin James part, but whereas James would have focused on the exterior, the pratfalls and boisterous anxiety, Frost focuses on the interior, letting us feel the sadness that has gnawed away at him ever since giving up the thing he loved so much. And that getting back the thing he loved so much, allows him to fully re-connect with himself and with life.

Perhaps in “Cuban Fury 2: Havana Nights”, Frost and Jones can fly this chicken coop and ignore the mechanics of plot for the majesty of dance.

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