A genuinely pleasant surprise, the U.K. romantic comedy Cuban Fury is one of those imports that surfaces theatrically in a few major U.S. markets, then quietly rotates into the DVD/digital marketplace, where it can be properly enjoyed.

The always amiable Nick Frost stars as Bruce Garrett, a former teenage salsa-dancing champion who lost his nerve and now lives the life of a sad-sack office bloke. His passion is rekindled, however, when he meets his new American boss Julia (Rashida Jones), who’s way out of his league but—wouldn’t you know it—also a salsa enthusiast.

The basic gag is in the casting. Frost has made a franchise of funny films with comic partner Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End), and his schlubby persona works as a funny disconnect here—this guy was a salsa champ? Jones radiates her usual intelligent likeability and proves once again to be an ace ensemble comic.
Chris O’Dowd is the real surprise, inverting his nice-guy image to play a lecherous office bully who tries to steal Julia away. O’Dowd and Frost have a nice antagonistic chemistry together. Ian McShane also pops in as Bruce’s hard-case dancing mentor.

The rhythms are all standard-issue rom-com, and the plotting is pure formula. But the fun is in the clever dialogue, delivered in that slightly off fashion that always seems to make British comedies a little more deft. Jokes veer into unexpected territories—about Marty McFly, say, or the virtues of distilled orange Fanta.

Each scene has a comic payoff, delivered with skill by professional funny people clearly having a good time. That kind of spirited vibe tends to shine through in comedies, and the bonus materials on the DVD/Blu-ray edition support the idea of it being a happy set during the making of the film. Also, watch for a very brief cameo from Frost’s old mate Pegg.

Of course, you need good dancing scenes for a movie like this and director James Griffiths delivers the goods. By employing a blown-out color palette, great music and some precise editing, Griffiths makes Frost and Jones look like actual salsa champs in the film’s mandatory dance competition finale.

Cuban Fury—a terrible title, by the way—never rises to the level of truly inspired comedy, but it’s a nice departure from recent American rom-coms, which tend toward hard-R sex jokes and exhausting raunchiness. Blame Judd Apatow. I do.

Extras: The DVD/Blu-ray retail edition features a half-dozen behind-the-scenes items focusing mostly on the salsa dancing. Frost did a good deal of training for the role, and it’s interesting to see how his work paid off when it came to editing the salsa sequences.
Also New This Week:

  • The sprawling documentary Watermark examines mankind’s relationship to water—from the Hoover Dam to the Ganges to the Greenland ice sheet—with groundbreaking high-definition images.
  • The YA sci-fi sensation Divergent stars Shailene Woodley in a grim future vision of social engineering gone bad. As science fiction, Divergent is less interested in future tech and more interested in speculation on sociology and anthropology. And teenagers.
  • Russell Crowe prepares for flooding in the Biblical epic Noah.

Notable New Titles This Month on Netflix:

Face/Off (1997)
The Killing: Season 4
Kinky Boots (2005)
Mad Max (1979)
Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (2014)
Red Dawn (1984)
Rounders (1998)