Cruella

Cruella is the next in a long line of Disney films designed to exploit their previous properties and put a reboot Twist on them. So although there are Dalmatians in this film the movie is not really about the dogs. This is an attempt to reimagine Cruella de Vil as a sympathetic character gone wrong. In the long run not much is going to change on the main stories except our perceptions of these characters as they appear early on and then return in their original form.

I didn’t expect a great deal from this movie and I was pleasantly surprised and how much I enjoyed it. Much of the credit goes to the production design team who’s amazing designs for the mansion, the workshop the cars, and all of the technical things that get used in the film are a lot of fun. In addition special notes should be given to the craftspeople who designed the clothes that were worn by the various characters but especially those made for star Emma Stone. She wears these outfits and commands the screen simply by looking outlandish and confident while doing so.

The plot of this film imagines Cruella from her earliest age until just before the events that makeup  101 Dalmatians. Cruella appears to be the orphaned child of a former acquaintance of a fashion designer, The Baroness. Of course appearances always turn out to be slightly skewed in a movie like this and there will be plot turns that confound us, amuse us, and in the long run make a little bit more sense then they probably should. I like the use of characters that are referred to in the previous films and they also have been given revised backstories. Jasper and Horace, who are Cruella’s henchman in this version of the story, turn out to be orphans that are similarly abandoned and are using petty crime as a way to survive. The movie really get started when characters get together and start plotting for Cruella to get into the fashion industry that she is always dreamed of being apart of.

There is a long sequence where Cruella is poorly used as an entry-level member of the Baroness’ Empire. The idea that she ends up scrubbing floors and being ignored despite her good ideas is maybe a little trite but it’s played for good comic effect. Emma Thompson provides great opposition as the heartless and manipulative fashion maven that Cruella is up against. The best parts of the movie are the three or four dramatic moments when Cruella’s designs upstage the Baroness at key moments, typically a fashion show. These are usually presented as clever tricks or reversals of the Baroness own plans. They are also very well designed and have a great visual flair to them. That flair makes it feel as if the Fashion World could operate in these sorts of ways. The Cruella character becomes the Banksy of the Fashion World, a renegade artist with a sense a panache. Of course the more she is blocked by the Baroness the more fantastic her revenge scenarios become.

If you were thinking of taking your children to see this film, think again, because one of the major plot points involves the murder of a woman. That death is followed up by another plot to murder another woman. Then we are given a situation where there might be even more murder involved. And there is plenty of cruelty to go along with the plotting. There are Dalmatians in the film and in the early part of the movie they are villainous. Two other dogs are the charming heroes, if you can call criminals heroes. The fact that in the end the Dalmatians become a more important part of the plot, really has nothing to do with the original movies. This is not a kids movie with dogs, it’s a movie made for adults based on characters from a kids movie. It would not do you well to confuse the two because your kids could very well end up traumatized by some of the things that take place in the plot.

It’s a little schizophrenic that sometimes we see Cruella as a victim and other times see her as the perpetrator of something evil. Admittedly the character is evil but actress Emma Stone holds back on making Cruella completely irredeemable but only stopping short to keep a PG-13 rating. I found the movie very entertaining and funnier than I expected. Worth a watch for adults, but beware bad dogs. 

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard

The original film came out four years ago, and was obviously successful enough to spawn a sequel. The high concept of The Hitman’s Bodyguard is all in the title. This film is no more subtle than the original. It hits you in the face with the premise, follows it up with a lot of mayhem, and then tops it with enough vulgar language for three Al Pacino and two Samuel L. Jackson films. This is the embodiment of mindless entertainment, it often makes no sense whatsoever, but you won’t care because you are shame laughing the whole time. 


I said it in the review of the first film, and I will repeat it and emphasize it here, Selma Hayak not only gives Jackson a run for his money, she clearly wins. It must have struck the writers of this film that doubling the use of the f-word by Jackson’s character’s wife would be funny, and they calculated correctly. Hayak delivers the good twice as much and frequently in a second language which makes this even more preposterous. She is a songbird with the f-word. Poor Ryan Reynolds has to make due with using the word mostly as a rejoinder to the other two. He can barely get a f-you in edgewise. 


It’s not entirely clear why the love interest for Reynold’s character in the original film was left out, although she would have been superfluous to the story with the direction they have taken here. Instead, they have inserted a character for Morgan Freeman to join the cast and get a paycheck. He also gets a few choice f-bombs but some of the biggest laughs he generates are from Reynold’s worshipful description of his voice. 


Appearing as the bad guy is Antonio Banderas, who does most of his acting with silly hairstyles and even sillier clothing choices. I would have appreciated a bit more by play with Banderas and Hayak, they were once matched together in another hitman story, “Desperado”  about twenty five years earlier. They do get a fight scene towards the end, and unlike the Robert Rodriguez film, this one is often played for laughs. In fact most of the action in the film has a comedic element to it. 


There is plenty of blood to go around, and many of the deaths are done for comic effect. Ryan Reynold is first billed but once things get started, he becomes a supporting character to the married couple of Jackson and Hayak. He is quite a bit the Coyote to everybody else’s Roadrunner. He gets dropped, kicked, run over, shot, stabbed and generally abused, but is right back up for the next sequence, ready to do it all again. 

The story is not as strong as the first film was, although neither is particularly sturdy. I do think there are more laughs in this film and that makes it a winner in my book. This is entertainment that is crude and disposable, which means for adults, you can enjoy your date night, drink to your heart’s content, and not worry that you don’t remember much about the movie the next day,…you don’t need to. 

The Croods: A New Age

So when I reviewed “The Croods” seven years ago, I finished off my comments by suggesting that there is no need for a sequel and that going to the well again would probably diminish the results. Let me say I was wrong. It turns out, that there is an idea for a sequel that might be worth some time to develop, and you should never underestimate the talent of artists who are given enough creative freedom. While “The Croods: A New Age” is not essential, it is a remarkably entertaining diversion and it comes at a time when we need those kinds of diversions. 
This family of Cavemen has a voice cast that includes three Academy Award winning actors, and  several more very talented performers who imbue the characters with some personality as they are put through their paces. This is a raucous film, that mostly lets the plot move along without making much sense but allowing the characters to entertain us and the production design to dazzle us. The writers, artists and director have focused on elements that are appealing to watch without trying to be too heavy handed in the message department. The narrative is simple, the Croods encounter a more evolved group of people and culture clash ensues. 
As a baby boomer, I enjoyed the extensive use of the Partridge Family hit “I Think I Love You” , and I hope that because it is a song from fifty years ago, it comes across as a classic rather than simply a pop culture reference that today’s audiences will not recognize. The film makers largely eschew the overuse of contemporary pop elements with the exception of some things that they are mocking. “A New Age” is not just a reference to a time epoch in caveman world, but also takes a bite out of some modern trends like men’s fashion sense and managing your katra. The idea of a balance in the environment gets broken when the new characters, appropriately named the Bettermans, are forced to confront the unintended consequences of their carefully regulated utopia. 

One path that the story wisely does not exploit for the conventional purposes is the love angle that is embodied by Eep and Guys romance. You might expect a love triangle that pits the two women against one another, but thankfully, the creators find a more productive use for the two teen girls that does not involve one-upsmanship and prickly rivalry. The conflict at the end is more comedic and focused on a wacky culture and the baiting of two teen girls never arises. In fact, the women get a funny sequence which is not very organic, but feels more authentic than a similar moment in “Avenger’s Endgame”.  Cloris Leachman gets another chance to show us why she has been a successful character actor for fifty plus years, and fans of comic book style TV shows and movies will feel appreciative of the homage, however in-organic, that the girls in the story get. 

There was a nice sized crowd at our screening, in spite of the covid limitation on capacity, it almost felt like it really was a Thanksgiving weekend like any other at the cinema. The movie is not essential but it is enjoyable and the visuals are enough to keep our admiration for the animation wizards at Dreamworks, pretty high. While the story telling is not up to Pixar standards, the art work certainly is and the humor should appeal to kids especially. 

Freaky

This is a movie that I enjoyed but wanted to like more than I did. The premise is the main selling point and it is a great one. This is a mashup of body switch comedies like “Freaky Friday”  with a traditional slasher film like “Friday the 13th”.  Doesn’t that sound fun for horror fans? Then as an added twist the victim body is of the opposite gender, but not a cheerleader, rather it is a girl who is underappreciated and struggling with self esteem issues and grief. There is a pattern here if you look closely at the film’s pedigree. 

The writer/director of this film is Christopher Landon, who previously brought us “Happy Deathday” both 1 and 2. I was not a big fan of the first movie and never saw the second. The one thing that made “Happy Deathday” unique was the redemption arc of the lead character. “Freaky” tries to replicate that formula by making this a story of empowerment in two contradictory ways. First, the nebish girl gets a makeover when her body is occupied by the serial killer. Now I know that this is a fantasy comedy and we have to suspend a lot of disbelief in the first place, but the conundrum here is one of the writers own making. By taking shortcuts in the storytelling to hook us in, he sacrifices opportunities for humor and internal logic. The killer, known as the Blissfield Butcher, has been written as a mindless hulking transient with severe hygiene issues and maybe a drug problem. So how does it make sense that he would have a stronger fashion eye and makeup skills than the teen girl whose body he is occupying?  If the killer were more Hannibal Lector than Jason Voorhees,  this could work. The writer just wants us to go with it. The teen girl Millie, does get a little more sensible transition,  marveling in being able to urinate standing up and turning her nose up at the smell emminating from her new body. The second way the story plays up the female empowerment is by letting her revel in her newly aquired strength.  

Serial killer in the girls body, ends up taking revenge on the girls tormentors, with just the slightest amount of reason to limit it to those figures. If the story let it play out more this would be ok, as it is, it feels a bit rushed and coincidental.  Meanwhile, the parallel story of our hero trapped in the hulking body of the maniac does work itself out a little better with trying to connect with her friends at school to get some help. Finding yourself romantically and in your relationship with you mother is a little harder to believe. This is the personal growth story which is supposed to add some weight to the story. I think it clutters up the horror and only occasionally adds to the humor.

Vince Vaughn is the star of the film rightly so, because he has to personify a character. Unfortunately,  Kathryn Newton doesn’t get as much to do after the switch. She is believable in the pre switch section, but merely stares aggressively in the main part of the story, because the serial killer, while having a fashion sense, has no personality or character traits. 

OK, enough with the thoughtful insights, the movie does have two or three pretty gruesome murders to keep us engaged as horror fans. The Opening section that sets up the supernatural twist, has some graphic violence but also a touch of humor. The cocked head of the killer after pinning a victim to the wall is right out of “Halloween” and was subsequently used in some of the Friday the 13th films. Two effective murders are basically spoiled by the trailer, but the buzzsaw sequence still shocks because of It’s graphic depiction.  

There is a coda section that is meant to drive the female empowerment theme home at the end. It makes sense only because we know that the killer always has an extra scene in the conclusions of these sorts of films. It would mean more if the killer had motivations or some background character,  but all he has is the conventions of the genre. 

So my reaction is similar to the feelings I had about the earlier film, but where that story  made the redemption work a little,  it simply feels shoehorned into this film. The movie has enough going for it to make a trip to a theater, but it will quickly fade as other better executed horror/comedy mashups come along.

Shaft (2019)

I like music and movie themes are always a favorite, but you can count on one hand the number of movie themes that can single-handedly rescue a movie from mediocrity and make you care about something that is average. Whatever residuals Lalo Schiffrin gets for Mission Impossible, he has earned ten times over for that movie series. Isaac Hayes is gone but his estate should get a big check for making these movies work as well as they do. As much credit as I want to give to the theme song however, there is one other essential component that also fills the film with the value that it has, the lead actor. In the 1970s Richard Roundtree became a star playing the part of the cool private dick who is a sex machine to all the chicks, and he swaggered through three films magnificently. I don’t really know why it took 19 years to get back to the character after the 2000 version of the film, because the lead actor then and now makes the theme song real.

Samuel L. Jackson may have matinee idol good looks like Roundtree did, but he has all the attitude and charisma needed to power a movie like this. I have seen Jackson act. In “Pulp Fiction”, “Jackie Brown” and “Jungle Fever”, he is a real character with quirks unique to each story, but in a lot of films he plays “Samuel L. Jackson” the poet laureate of the “F” word and the bad ass with a mouth that won’t quit. “Shaft” gives him the chance to use those basic cartoon skills in a pretty standard action film, but elevate that action to something more entertaining than gunfights and car chases. Jackson makes the movie he is in fun because he is having fun being in it. This is his fourth film released this year and it’s only June.

The twist in this version is that Shaft is passing the baton so to speak to his son, an MIT nerd who does data for the FBI. Jessie Usher plays J.J. Shaft as if he is a newb in the big world because he has stepped out from behind his computer screen and stepped into Harlem proper. There is a lengthy backstory about the relationship, or lack thereof, between father and son. Shaft doesn’t really know his child and finding out his faults and strengths are the main beats of the story. The movie is filled with offhand putdowns and double takes as Shaft tries to connect with his long lost son. Regina hall gets a female role that is much more substantial than any other in the franchise history, although it is still mostly a side part and primarily for comedic purposes. As a helicopter Mom, who never really stopped loving the man who was her son’s father, she has kept the two apart, so naturally she is aghast when they reconnect. Usher let’s his wardrobe do most of the acting in the first part of the movie but as he and Jackson begin to settle into a relationship, he is much more effective.

The plot deals with the usual investigation of a death that is actually connected to illegal drug trafficking. Because the story is in a hurry to get Junior and Dad back together, it is a bit rushed, and I’ll be damned if I can explain why the victim was killed in the first place, but none of that matters. What matters is that there are insults, badass behavior and some fun fight scenes. Director Tim Story does not have a track record that inspires much faith in an action film. His two Fantastic Four Movies are not very popular among the comic book geeks. I don’t really know his comedies, having skipped them entirely. He does seem to understand the milieu of  urban comedy and that all works in his favor because this is the Shaft movie that is supposed to be funny. There were occasional lines in the other films that would amuse but clearly this movie deserves it’s classification as a comedy on IMDB.

One final note, this movie also features Richard Roundtree in the last quarter of the film. In the previous version he was supposedly Uncle John Shaft, and the part was a brief cameo. The producers made a wise decision to make his role more central to the story and characters and it gives us a lot more to care about and laugh at as well. “Shaft 2019” may not be the classic that the original film was, but it is an entertaining night at the theater (or in front of your TV if you are not in the U.S.), so enjoy it and don’t think to hard about it. Just let the song wash over you like a warm memory of awesomeness past, and listen to Jackson go off, you should be fine.

The Interview

 

The most controversial movie of the year. Yep, I said it and as hard as it is to believe it is true. This stupid, vulgar, lazy excuse for killing two hours and a tub of popcorn became the focus of international tension, craven corporate decision making, and judgement by movie fans around the world. All of you who read anything on line already know what the battle lines are. Now it is to to discover what we are fighting over.

“The Interview” is basically a comedy in the vein of “Spies Like Us”. It pairs two well known comic figures in an outrageous espionage story that no one would mistake as a James Bond movie, much less a piece of political propaganda. The Soviets were not as thin skinned as the North Koreans, or perhaps they were more worried about their citizens living conditions and so ignored drivel that is not a real affront to any state or sovereign. This movie is arrested development, adolescent, shart humor, financed by money grubbing studios and narcissistic performers.  I don’t think it is anyone’s patriotic duty to see it simply because you support free speech, but it is a good example of why we have  protection from the government for free expression, so that the stupidest ideas in the world can be expressed.

If you have seen any of the comedies from Seth Rogan in the past, you know that the humor relies on stoner jokes and vulgar language. The frequency with which the f-word is bandied about in this film could be dangerous to the comics themselves. If people really used the term as frequently and with such reckless abandon as the characters in these films, it would lose any taboo status and stop being funny when inserted into conventional conversation.

So far, I have probably given you the impression that I did not like the movie. far from it, I laughed hard at a number of things. The movie has random violence done for comic effect, I like that. It is full of stupid people being judged by others and by themselves in pretty harsh terms, that is funny also. It lampoons the most xenophobic and dangerous nation on the planet, and guess what, it’s not the U.S., I like that too.  Are the characters engaged in racist and sexist stereotyping, uh duh. As is usual with these kinds of movies, we are supposed to see that they are morons and laugh at them for their stupidity, it is called satire, a concept that the politically correct in this world seem to be unable to comprehend.

When Katy Perry’s “Fireworks” becomes an anthem for revolution, it is not hard to guess that sarcasm is part of the mix. Not everything works in the movie, but there are enough but jokes and penis references to make the average college fraternity laugh a dozen times in the movie. One brief shot of nudity is included to be titillating, unless you are thinking of the longer shots of Seth Rogan’s naked character or Kim Jung Un’s backside.

Finterviewor me the real political controversy is over the use of streaming services to deliver movies. On a Sunday night, my network slowed down enough to stop the film three or four times. Until the delivery is seamless, theaters should not be too worried about day and date VOD releases. Plus, this way, all the pot smokers will be at home watching instead of on the road driving to the movie in a highly lit condition. This movie is exactly what you think it is, and if that appeals to you, as it did to me, you will enjoy it well enough.

Back to the Future Trilogy

why-drew-struzan-deserves-an-honorary-oscar-back-to-the-future

OK, this is a good way to start the New Year on a movie blog. Last night I had the chance to see the three films from Robert Zemekis that cemented his position as the most commercial director of the 1980s outside of Steven Spielberg, who of course was a producer on all three films himself. This was a digital presentation at the Egyptian Theater and the house was packed. I saw several attendees wearing down vests and one guy with Griff’s hat on from the second movie. It is now 2015 and that was the year in the future that Marty and Doc went to to try and straighten out Marty’s kids. Unfortunately we don’t have the Hoverboards, Flying cars and self tying shoes predicted in the film, but we do have skype, flatscreen TVs, Google Glass, and more channel choices that someone could watch at the same time than anyone should find necessary.

Back to the Future 1This will not be a full review on each film but rather just a quick recap and a few comments. These movies are pretty well known and are beloved by millions. The first in the series is one of the great pop entertainment surprises ever. While the follow ups struggle to achieve the same kind of magic as the original, they manage to do the one thing that every consumer of films wants, entertain us.

back_to_the_future_ver2The original film roared out of no where in 1985 to incredible popular success and made Michael J. Fox an entertainment icon rather than simply a good character on a successful TV show. The cleverness of the concept and it’s execution are hard to match. This film is funny, exciting and it manages to raise our awareness of family history and it’s significance along the way. While Fox is clearly the star, the secret weapon in this film is Christopher Lloyd, who got laughs from an intake of breath and a bug eyed scream. He manages to make some of the slapstick work where so often it does not in modern films. I will also mention that Lea Thompson is best used in this film and she does the “good girl with a bad side” 50s character just perfectly. She is also strikingly attractive in the film.

back_to_the_future_part_ii_ver3Four years later, the second film was released at the Thanksgiving holidays. It was a success but came nowhere close to matching the original box office draw of it’s predecessor. Maybe too much time had elapsed or maybe it is the sour tone of the movie. Fox is still great, but the complicated movement between time periods and the inconsistency of some of the rules make it a little sloppy. Having to invent a character fault in Marty, in order to justify the story line is also a bit frustrating. Thomas Wilson as Biff/Griff does a great job in building his malignant character, but because the movie uses him in such cartoony ways and so frequently, the movie feels shrill. Doc Brown gets short shrift in this chapter of the story and Elizabeth Shue, as the new Jennifer, is put to sleep a third of the way into the movie and does not return until the coda of the third film. When I first saw this thirty years ago, it was a bit of a letdown. Last night however, it was pure joy. The future sequences play even more effectively now that we are in 2015 and the suspense bits still work. While I feel as if this is the weakest of the three films, that does not mean it is not a success. There is plenty here to enjoy.

back_to_the_future_part_iiiThe third chapter was awkwardly set up in the second film, but once it gets started it works just fine and it feels seamless rather than forced. The historical context is fun and the western tropes that are lampooned were amusing. Marty adopts the “Man with No Name” persona, and gives him a name, Clint Eastwood. The fact that Clint was a big star at the time but also the only star who tried to keep Westerns alive during the 80s was a big whoop for film fans. Familiar Western character actors are sprinkled through the film and the gulf between the real west and the movie west is explored just a bit. The addition of Mary Steenburgen to the cast was a nice touch and gives Doc a great conclusion to his story. Watch Wilson copy Lee Marvin from “The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance” in his portrayal of “Mad Dog Tannen”. He gets the walk, swagger and body movement just right, and in case you missed it, he carries a riding crop in his non-shooting hand. This was a simpler version of the time travel story and it effectively wrapped up the story lines they had created in the second movie. The fact that the two sequels were shot simultaneously saved some money and allowed this film to be released just seven months after the second installment.

Back to the Future 2A pleasant evening was had by all and I am much more ready to come back to these films than I have been for a while. They really were terrific entertainment even when there are some issues in the time story sequences.

 

 

The Other Woman

I think everybody knows the answer to this before it opened, but I’ll go ahead and ask and answer the question anyway. Is there any way that this movie will be any good?     No.

I have liked Leslie Mann in other films, she is an every day kind of attractive. She is a talented comedic actress. She should have looked at this script and run the other way. Having made the movie, she should now sue the producers for turning her into a whining, needy, idiot, character who is made to look unattractive and stupid in nearly every sequence in the film. I have always had a thing for women in hats, maybe I saw Casablanca and and fell in love with Ingrid Bergman at a young age. This movie may have cured me of that fetish. Whenever the director wanted her to look awful, he put her in a hat that not even Bergman could have sold.

Cameron Diaz is still an attractive woman, but she is a little older now and sometimes looks a bit well worn at times. Her smile still twinkles, and her hair is cute in whatever form it shows up in, but either the sun or plastic surgery have given her a tougher look than she probably deserves. Now I will say there was a trailer for “The Sex Tape” playing before this movie and she looked terrific in that, so maybe the director of photography needs to share some of the blame here. She has been funny in a dozen movies. Many of which I liked but others have dismissed (eg. “Knight and Day”) Here she has nothing funny to do or say. There are moments when I wondered if she knew what the tone of the film was supposed to be.

I don’t really know Kate Upton. She is a beautiful woman and apparently world famous, probably for being beautiful. It turns out she has made three films now and I have seen all three of them. I have no memory of her from the other two at all. So while beauty is certainly a calling card, it is not a memory card, because unless she is on the beach in a bikini, I suspect her acting career will be limited. I hope that doesn’t sound too mean, I don’t want it to. I was just not convinced that she needed to even be in this movie.

This could almost be a remake of “The First Wives Club” from 1996. Except instead of three philanderers, we have one serial philanderer and the women he has cheated on. It’s a woman’s empowerment revenge story. Unfortunately, none of the main characters is likable enough to feel much sympathy for and at times they are downright irritating. The male character in the story is played with a tone that guns from suave James Bond sex machine to doofus Jeff Daniels in “Dumb and Dumber”. Nothing in the way any of these characters act is in the realm of reality, which would be alright if it was all revenge fantasy, but it isn’t. There is another romance shoehorned onto the story, a superfluous character played by Don Johnson, who looks great by the way, that is distracting and totally predictable, and some cultural references to  the French that might have worked if the story had stuck to the comedy and not veered into melodrama.

It doesn’t work. I did not expect it to, and the two women who went with me agreed. It’s the only new wide release this weekend, so maybe it will make some money, but you can look for a quick exit from theaters and an even quicker exit from your memory.

Cuban Fury

I looked at two other blog sites today that both reviewed this movie. That is something I do not usually do before seeing a film. I want my perspective to be untainted as much as possible. The thing of it is though, I had no plan to see this movie before today. I’d only heard of it a day or two ago, and I knew next to nothing about it except that it featured dancing and Nick Frost. I let my curiosity get the better of me and I peeked at what others had said. It was not promising. The reviews that I saw were not terrible but they were at best lukewarm to the movie. They did however fill in enough details to let me know that this might be a movie I would appreciate.

Since I have the week off at one of my work sites, I thought I’d be able to take some time and sneak in several films. No such luck and to be honest I was not excited about anything I’d not already seen. I took my AMC Stubbs points, marched down and caught the matinee of this movie. I’m 56 years old and I was the youngest person in the theater. It was on one of the four big screens at the multiplex with 17 screens. There were maybe a half dozen of us there so the house seemed cavernous. All that said, everybody had a pretty good time. I heard the 70 year old ladies a dozen seats down from me laugh several times and I was doing the same. The film was a little predictable, but all romantic comedies are. What sets this apart from most of the others is the salsa-dancing background and the star.

For some reason I have usually enjoyed movie dancing. From the classic Hollywood musicals of the golden age, to the 80’s revisionism of Fame, Flashdance and Footloose (the three big “Fs” of the 80s), a little fancy footwork seemed to do it for me. This film takes a big dose of “Strictly Ballroom” and crosses it with a goofball comedy sensibility to entertain for the nearly two hours that it ran. A dancer who has lost his way and seems to have settled for a more mundane existence, gets a chance to reconnect with his roots. All the while being slighted by an obnoxious co-worker and romantic rival. I liked the dialogue that reveals what a pig the rival really is and the performance of Chris O’Dowd  as the odious Drew was at least a third of the fun in the movie. So it is an underdog story set in England centered around salsa dancing.

The underdog here is Nick Frost, as Bruce, the man who gave up salsa as a child when bullied by a group of other boys. His sweetheart of a sister was his dancing partner and she still bravely faces the world with her own quirky way of coping. It is the arrival of a pretty new American woman who stirs Bruce’s romantic inclinations, and when he discovers that she also salsas, he returns to the art, twenty-five years out of practice. Frost is best known to me as Simon Pegg’s counterpart in the “Cornetto Trilogy”(there is a “blink and you’ll miss it” appearance by Mr. Pegg in this film as well). He is a sweet faced, overweight, lump of an actor, who manages to bring real personality to his roles and sweep aside the stereotypes of his visual image. In this film, the whole goal is to subvert those sterotypes while also exploiting them for laughs. It worked really well for me.

It is not a classic that you will want to return to over and over again, but it has it’s moments. There are some great scenes with an effeminate Persian man who encourages Bruce that are very funny. The showdown between Bruce and Drew is hysterically staged and full of mad ingenuity. The peripheral characters, including Ian McShane as Bruce’s old salsa coach, fill the movie with little bits of charm and mild laughter. It was better than I was expecting and the credit has to go to Nick Frost, who manages to make us care that a dumpy guy might have bigger dreams than what he seems doomed to live out.