The zazzed-up editing obscures the actual results, but Nick Frost apparently does much of his own dancing in the new comedy "Cuban Fury." Written by Jon Brown from an idea by Frost, the film is designed to let the valuable, amiable co-star of "Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz" and "The World's End" step out on his own in a modest fable of self-improvement, the wrangling of inner demons and "Strictly Ballroom" dance floor triumph. Frost has all it takes to run his own show. Now he just needs a better show.
The pathos are laid on thickly for this sort of thing. As a teenage phenom, Bruce Garrett suffered a painful setback when beset by bullies just minutes before the U.K. Junior Salsa Championship. Bruce quits then and there, breaking the heart of his crusty instructor (Ian McShane) and eventually settling into an ordinary life as a single middle-class office worker, who spends his social hours swapping tales of loserdom with his male pals.
Then a new manager arrives, played by Rashida Jones, and she's into salsa, and suddenly Bruce realizes he's not dead inside, just sleeping. Thus begins a competition for the hand, heart and bed of this exotic American specimen. Chris O'Dowd is Bruce's loutish adversary, the comparatively smooth operator with the unfortunate sideburns.
"Cuban Fury" isn't much, but it does feature a scene (the best in the film) between Frost and O'Dowd squaring off in a parking ramp dance-off. Finally, you think, we're getting somewhere! Why isn't the rest of the picture up to this level? Partly, it's because director James Griffiths is working with material of indistinct and uncertain tone. "Cuban Fury" takes many shortcuts in getting, and keeping, Bruce on our side; he's constantly bullied by the O'Dowd character in only minimally amusing ways, and the actors are required to get by on charm. Fortunately they have plenty. The film, painless enough, has less of it. Kayvan Novak is its liveliest element, playing a cliche — the exotic homosexual, who quickly befriends Bruce — but a cliche with a good heart and helpful fashion suggestions.