"Ratatouille" meets "Billy Elliot" in Nick Frost's charming comedy "Cuban Fury," the story of an overweight man, Bruce Garrett, who is determined to dance his way into a woman's heart. And not just any kind of dancing, but one of the most athletic and difficult styles imaginable. "Salsa," says a hyperventilating Bruce. "Why'd it have to be salsa?"
Frost, who wrote the story for "Cuban Fury" (the script is by Jon Brown), plays Bruce as a classic archetype: the guy who longs to do something for which he was clearly not designed. Actually, Bruce was once a young salsa champion, until some bullies shamed him into shelving his high heels. Now, 25 years later, Bruce is moldering in an arcane section of GFD Engineering (he designs lathes) when his new boss, Julia (Rashida Jones), lights a fire in his heart. Searching for a way to impress her, he discovers that she's taking salsa lessons.
Part of the joke here is that nearly everyone in suburban England seems to salsa, including Bruce's rival for Julia's hand, Drew (Chris O'Dowd, shining in a rare villainous role). The overweight Frost and the lanky O'Dowd share a terrific scene together in a parking lot, and although it shatters any pretense of realism, you can see why director James Griffith wouldn't dream of cutting it.
The plot doesn't always have the greatest rhythm, and the movie makes some odd missteps. What keeps it all percolating is the colorful cast, including the great Ian McShane as Bruce's macho dance-instructor, and the British-Iranian actor Kayvan Novak as a sexually ambiguous nightclubber who takes Bruce under his silky wing. They're stock characters, but the actors breathe fresh life into them.
Ultimately, the film rides on Frost, who carries it with charm, grace and plenty of heart. Keep an ear out for the Latin soundtrack, which includes Tito Puente, Willie Colón and the Spanish Harlem Orchestra.
PLOT An overweight misfit must dance his way into a woman's heart.
RATING R (language, crude humor)
CAST Nick Frost, Rashida Jones, Chris O'Dowd
BOTTOM LINE An enjoyably lightweight comedy thanks mostly to Frost and his endearing castmates. The authentic Latin soundtrack helps as well.