This sounds like a post-apocalyptic missile crisis, when in fact it’s a rom-com with a bit of Salsa dancing thrown in. So why the title? Well, Cuban Salsa is the form of salsa which gives the male dancing partner the most opportunities to show off to the woman. Prepare to meet Nick Frost playing the over-weight ex-junior dance hero who puts his slippers back in an attempt to captivate Julia, his new sales manager. The only problem is his boss, Drew (Chris O’Dowd) who has the same idea. Both realise that the dance floor is the way to Julia’s heart and the race is on to see whose patent heels will win.
The odds seem rather too heavily stacked against little Bruce, who left the junior arena after a humiliating ordeal involving a sequins. Now in his mid-forties, he waddles into work wearing a fluorescent top and carrying his fold-up bike, while tall, dashing Drew leaps about with his blazer slung over one shoulder. If you are able to believe that the gorgeous Julia (Rashida Jones) would ever look twice at the rotund Bruce, with his man-boobs and apologetic expression, then your love of the absurd is just what’s needed to enjoy the rest.
Encouraged by his sister (Olivia Colman), who incidentally also turns out to be a Salsa expert, Bruce revives his moves by tracking down his old teacher Ron Parfait (Ian McShane), who is none too impressed to see his door darkened by his once-favourite pupil. Then there’s the hostility he encounters from his Drew, who takes every opportunity to steal a move on Bruce, and manages to give the impression that he’s winning despite the lack of interest displayed by Julia herself.
When he’s not thinking up smooth moves to sweep Julia off her feet, Bruce encounters the comic advice of friends old and new. Old friend Gary is excellently played by Rory Kinnear who delivers deadpan wise-cracks about ‘oiling Julia’s machinery’. Meanwhile new friend, the effeminate Bejan (Kayvan Novak) comes from the opposite school and is more concerned to see that Bruce gets his body hair and skin colour sorted out. One of the funniest moments is when the two meet.
However, the dance climax comes when Drew and Bruce decide to settle things ‘like real men’ in a Salsa duel which takes place in and on top of a multi-story car park. As so often with this film, things go a bit too far and James Griffiths doesn’t quite manage to marry Fred Astaire with James Bond. It’s all larger than life, but that does not mean that it isn’t enjoyable in many places. Chris O’Dowd, who played the adorable cop in Bridesmaids, is equally convincing in this role as the detestable Drew and excels himself in the denouement where he strips half naked in one last, desperate attempt to stake his manly claim over Julia.
Best advice: go with low expectations and the chances are you will be pleasantly surprised. Dance films are ridiculously comforting for those that love them and even if this one doesn’t break new ground you should enjoy the music, the floor-action and above all the laughs.