‘Cuban Fury’ is a loving send up of salsa fever

“Cuban Fury” is a funny movie about a man’s journey back to dance after having been beaten to a pulp as a boy about beating a poof.

That’s all set up in the beginning credits that flashes us back to 1987 when a 13-year-old Bruce Garrett (Ben Radcliffe) unwisely is walking around is a shocking pink shirt with too many sequins. A group of bigger boys (Brandon Robinson, Louis Kyriacou and Kieran Gaffney) let him know that even in England, where ballroom dancing is a serious sport that attracts a large following at universities and one of the biggest competitions is held in Blackpool, sequins are still a bit suspect.

Bruce had swept all the salsa competitions dancing with his sister (Isabella Steinbarth) except the nationals, but throws that all away because of this sequin sacking. He doesn’t even bother to face his salsa teacher, the grumpy and glaring Ron Parfitt (Ian McShane). Twenty-five years later, he’s grown up into Nick Frost and settled into a comfort zone that his sister (now Olivia Colman) called “the world of not even trying.”

Bruce cycles to work, has to listen to the smarmy comments and misogynistic remarks of his co-worker  Drew (Chris O’Dowd) who seems determined to keep Bruce down. Both Bruce and Drew are drawn to their new boss, a woman from America named Julia (Rashida Jones).

Bruce has golf buddies and they go through a weekly ritual of cataloging their lack of romantic and sexual encounters with women and one of the three is married but doesn’t seem to have much luck either. After his weekly golf get-together, Bruce notices that Julia happens to be attending salsa classes.

And what better reason to take up dance than to woe a lovely lady. Bruce uses the Internet to find his old teacher, now a hard-drinking has-been and despite Ron’s obvious disgust, Bruce enrolls in classes and becomes a salsa dancer again, but he still hasn’t overcome his mild-mannered ways of romancing. Much of the comedy comes from the hyper-misogynistic womanizer played by O’Dowd and his rivalry with the sincere but dumpy Bruce and, as it turns out, O’Dowd’s Drew also dances and that leads to the ultimate sign of Latin machismo–the dance off. Instead of a parking lot of cool dudes as in Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” (or foodie hell as in Al Yankovic’s “Eat It”) we have some car vandalism and fast footwork on top of the parking structure as well as a “Shaun of the Dead” type cameo.

Yet, in a movie that begins with a question about the manliness of dancing in childhood, we can’t leave that question behind. Don’t worry. Bruce doesn’t get all mushy in a manhood monologue. Instead, the writers provide us with a character, Bejan (Kayvan Novak), which gives us time to question other sexual and gender issues. Bejan is supposedly Persian and Bruce isn’t quite sure if Bejan is gay or straight or somewhere in between. Bejan, not Ron, brings Bruce up to speed in the what-to-wear to a salsa nightclub, making sure that Bruce shaves his chest (no fully body waxing in London, I guess) and the requisite fake tan.

Rashida Jones doesn’t get much to do. She is the straight “man” in this rom-com. Likewise, Olivia Colman is there for support as the sister who was betrayed by her brother when he stopped dancing and who has watched him fail to shine in adulthood.

Of the cast, Novak is the one with classic movie idol looks–he’s 6-foot-1, slender and yet shows off well-muscled arms in “Cuban Fury” and has a smile that’s made irresistible by a dimple in his chin. Of Iranian descent, he’s made a name for himself in the UK with his comedic flair in “Fonejacker” that won him a BAFTA for Best Comedic Performance in 2007.

“Cuban Fury,” isn’t a great movie and the dance scenes are more fun than spectacular, but the movie gives us a British version of man fighting gender stereotypes to realize his true self as a dancer. Because the lead is a man with a hefty potbelly and man-boobs, that also adds to both the pathos and the comedy. In this case, finding heart or el corazon is more about following your heart and dreams, because perhaps you’re meant to be king of some subculture and like minded people. If you get out on the dance floor, not everyone looks like they belong in the movies. A lot of them are normal looking blokes who might need to lose a few pounds and maybe more geeky than cool, but since most dance parties have fewer male dancers than female dancers, the odds are definitely in their favor. “Cuban Fury” is a fun movie that both men and women can enjoy, or at least my husband and I both enjoyed it. He enjoyed it better than “Strictly Dancing” and I’d rate it about the same.

If you’ve made the journey down dancing manliness lane or are thinking of doing so, this movie is a great choice. Next time I meet O’Dowd or Frost, I hope they’ll ask me to dance.

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