This may be a strange thing to say about an actor best known for playing a chipmunk-cheeked slacker zombie, but Nick Frost always exudes a certain dignity on screen. As Simon Pegg’s sidekick in Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy of movies, Frost could have easily been relegated to porky comic relief. Instead, as the layabout friend in “Shaun of the Dead,” the action-movie-loving rookie cop in “Hot Fuzz,” and the clone-battling middle-aged man in “World’s End,” Frost always brings a certain gravitas to ridiculous circumstances. He’s funny, but very self-possessed, and I wouldn’t mess with him.
So it is in “Cuban Fury,” featuring Frost in his first starring role, now out on DVD. The British comedy adheres carefully to a tried-and-true formula, probably too carefully. But Frost is charming and affable in a lead role, and carries the film over its rough patches.
He’s Bruce, a onetime youth salsa-dancing champion who hung up his tiny shoes after some neighborhood bullies accosted him on the way to a dance contest and made him eat the sequins off his shirt. Now a 37-year-old engineer, Bruce has resigned himself to a tidy, boring little life. That changes when his firm gets a new American boss (Rashida Jones of “Parks and Recreation”) and he’s smitten. And when he learns she’s into salsa dancing, he starts to consider visiting his mercurial old coach (Ian McShane) and getting his old mojo back.
And that’s about it, really, for plot. Most of the film is other people coaxing Bruce along, including Kayvan Novak as a gay dancer who goes way beyond stereotype and into some bizarre realm all his own. Bruce’s main nemesis is a skeezeball co-worker, played by Chris O’Dowd. After playing so many nice guys in films like “Bridesmaids,” O’Dowd really seems to relish playing the bad guy, and he’s hilarious. The best scene in the movie is a “dance-off” between O’Dowd and Frost in the office parking ramp that just keeps getting weirder and wilder — the dance equivalent of the anchorman battles in “Anchorman.”
The rest of the movie doesn’t quite live up to that, veering wildly between a zany “Dodgeball”-like tone and a more heartfelt “Strictly Ballroom” type of melodrama that, of course, ends at a big dance contest. The film’s relentlessly jazzed-up editing sometimes obscures the fact that Frost spent several months learning how to salsa dance, and some of the film’s considerable British talent (including McShane, Olivia Colman and Rory Kinnear) feel underused.
Still, if “Cuban Fury” launches Frost into bigger and better films, it’s worth it. And Pegg does make a cameo in the film — for all of two seconds. This is Frost’s dance floor.