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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
The Salsa-er's Apprentice
by Donald Levit

Its nice schlub gets the girl, but another Marty it isn’t, nor a Dirty Dancing (whose sequel is subtitled Havana Nights). There is none of the promised “fury” or a whiff from the Caribbean island. Cuban Fury turns out a relative half step at most above the romcom pack and, trite and awkward, will please mainly the date-movie crowd.

At a special pre-release showing, star, co-executive producer and story originator Nick Frost delighted that crowd with wit, dirty words, signed tee shirts, and revelation of his “no reward for effort in romantic comedy” arduous seven months, 1,300 hours of dance practice -- he looks to have since put back on the lost pounds -- and years-ago inspiration involving a plain fatty who through the power of music woos and wins a pretty lady.

The script, written by first-timer Jon Brown, then entrusted to first-time feature director James Griffiths, plays like the television comedies from which the latter has recently graduated. Intended as “not broad, cartoonish comedy” but realistic character-driven humor, the result benefits from effective character studies in only some limited instances. Despite the selected audience’s glee, however, the laffs arise from situation instead of character, that is, a sitcom, the opening fifteen minutes enough to connect the dots for the remaining eighty-three.

A rushed introduction indicates that, repeating obscenities about dancing being for sissies, bullies made thirteen-year-old trophy-winning Bruce Garnett eat his spangles en route to the UK Junior Salsa Championships. Leaving dance partner-sister Samantha and mentor Ron Parfitt (Ian McShane) waiting at that competition altar, the traumatized youngster burned his salsa shoes, to emerge onscreen again at thirty-eight.

He (Frost) is now a roundish, nerdy but nice low-level industrial designer with an unfashionable wardrobe and wheels and no self-esteem or love life in spite of bartender-sister Sam’s (Olivia Colman) chicken soup for the soul-isms: “If you really like something you’ve got to reach out and grab it.” The butt of obnoxious preening office Lothario Drew (Chris O’Dowd), he is smitten with Julia Matthews (Rashida Jones), their new chief imported from America. So is nasty nemesis Drew, who uses any underhanded means towards his goal of bedding the boss lady while rubbing it in Bruce’s face.

After their I.D. lanyards get entangled in the hallway, distracted Julia plows her Toyota into Bruce as she fiddles with a car cassette deck and tape, quite possibly the only ones still in use in 2012. The incident does allow the two to discover their mutual fanaticism for salsa and him to make her a mix tape from his vinyl collection.

By chance, she soon attends salsa dance class upstairs at the very club-pub where Bruce and his golf driving-range cronies Gary and Mickey (Rory Kinnear, Tim Plester) are knocking down brews. That clinches it, so he ferrets out still-resentful dubious Ron at his cellar club, “El Corazón,” to beg for salsa lessons. Practice paid off for actor Frost, who does not embarrass himself too much in the part of relearning the moves and regaining dancer’s heart, or corazón. Faint heart ne’er won fair lady, so he must be pushed by Ron, Sam and gay fellow student Bejan (Kayvan Novak) to dance his way into the heart of the woman you know he will succeed in winning.

The movie’s bright colors are attractive, but the plot is unexceptional and the jokes TV-thin. So as not to outshine the hero, the real dancers are not turned loose on the Saturday Night Fever disco floor as one wishes they were. In her five seconds of glory as Gloria, choreographer Susana Montero sizzlingly struts what might have been.

(Released by eOne and rated "R" by MPAA.)

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