Just when you thought the zombie genre should stay dead and buried along comes “Juan of the Dead.”
The Cuban import takes the baton from both George A. Romero’s zombie films and cheekier fare like “Shaun of the Dead.” “Juan” fuses decapitations with slapstick comedy in such good spirited fashion Shaun himself would hoist a pint in its honor.
Romero’s films routinely poke holes in American mores from a left of center perspective. “Juan of the Dead,” by comparison, skewers Castro’s Cuba, from its manufactured national pride to the media mouth pieces which blame America for just about everything.
Those simply hungry for genre gore will walk away satiated. “Juan” features a brilliantly conceived mass zombie execution as well as a slick water-based undead assault.
Juan and Lozaro (Alexis Diaz de Villega and Jorge Molina) are Havana-based slackers whose lifestyle is interrupted by a zombie outbreak. The duo teams up with a group of misfits, including a sassy transvestite and a bodybuilder who faints at the sight of blood.
This adventure will not bode well for the beefy fella.
The city is quickly consumed by zombie hordes, convincing Juan to start a zombie slaying business to make ends meet.
Juan sure did build that.
Writer/director Alejandro Brugués spends too much time putting social commentary into his characters’ mouths when the settings and story advances often do the job all by themselves. Cuban media outlets keep blaming imperialistic Americans for the zombie invasion, while Juan’s post-zombie plans smack of Capitalism 101.
Brugués farcical touch needs little tweaking, even if the editing and special effects reflect the film’s tight budget. And when Juan and Lozaro share a bromantic moment just before sunrise, the film proves its more than just a few zombie gags strung together for our bemusement.
The film’s pacing falters repeatedly, and the movie’s second half lacks the sense of surprise found in those brisk opening sequences. Those bored by Romero’s recent zombie films will feast on “Juan’s” tribute to proud Cubans able to survive both an undead attack as well as Castro’s “revolution.”
Follow Christian Toto on Twitter @TotoMovies