Having made his name working alongside his pal Simon Pegg (mostly in projects directed by Edgar Wright), Nick Frost finally gets his own starring vehicle with Cuban Fury, a romantic comedy about a middle-aged English sad sack who takes up salsa dancing to win a woman’s heart. Pegg does appear in a cameo, for all of two seconds, and it’s a sign of how blandly formulaic this movie is that they’re the two funniest seconds in the entire picture. Cuban Fury feels like the product of a computer program that was fed a dozen screenwriting manuals and synthesized the ultimate generic rom-com. Only one scene—the very one that Pegg shows up in—demonstrates any real creativity, and even that mostly amounts to a couple of goofy dudes attempting to intimidate each other with terrible dance moves.
Every mediocre movie needs a useless backstory, so we first meet Bruce as a young boy (Ben Radcliffe) whose love for salsa gets beaten out of him by a gang of classmates, the bullies forcing him eat the sequins on his competition outfit. Decades later, Bruce (now played by Frost) works at a job so dull that his coffee mug reads “I Love My Lathe,” and is still regularly being bullied, nowadays by an obnoxious co-worker named Drew (Chris O’Dowd). When their firm hires an American, Julia (Rashida Jones), as their new manager, both Bruce and Drew make a play for her, but Bruce soon discovers a possible advantage that might compensate for his poor physique and lack of savoir faire: Julia is taking salsa classes. Before you can say “Tito Puente,” he’s tracking down his former instructor (Ian McShane) and engaging in the sort of training montage one would have thought Team America: World Police had permanently killed years ago.
Frost reportedly spent months learning how to salsa, but while he doesn’t embarrass himself, neither does he manage to justify the oohs and aahs that accompany Bruce’s gyrations during the inevitable climactic dance contest. Most of the ostensible comedy, meanwhile, is predicated on the sight of a big fat guy trying to be physically graceful—though that’s still preferable to O’Dowd’s unmodulated asshole routine, or to the sorry presence of another dancer (Kayvan Novak) inhabiting every gay stereotype in the book. Nor is there any particular chemistry between Frost and Jones, whose characters are so lazily written that they have not one but two meet-cutes in which they collide—once while walking down a hallway, then again later when Julia accidentally hits Bruce with her car while he’s cycling. There’s not an ounce of fury in the entire movie, nor any other strong emotion; it’s the sort of lackluster, amiable, doggedly unambitious film you tolerate when you’re too exhausted to pick up the remote and find something more worthwhile.