out of Five
Running times: 100
Enjoyable zomcom with strong comic performances and some inspired gags, but many of the jokes will go over the heads of a non-Cuban audience and it's ultimately neither as scary nor as emotionally engaging as it should have been.
What's it all about?
Directed by Alejandro Brugues, Juan of the Dead (Juan de los Muertos, original title fans) is a Spanish-Cuban co-production that's essentially Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead transposed to Havana. Alexis Diaz de Villegas stars as amiable slacker Juan, who's out fishing with his best friend Lazaro (Jorge Molina) when the zombie apocalypse begins. When the majority of Havana becomes overrun with zombies, Juan and his friends – including his estranged daughter Camila (Andrea Duro), Lazaro's son Vladi California (Andros Perugorría), local gay transvestite La China (Jazz Vilá) and La China's hulking best friend El Primo (Eliecer Ramirez) – hole themselves up on the roof of Juan's apartment building and hit upon the idea of charging people to kill their zombified loved ones.
Alexis Diaz de Villegas has a likeable, laid-back charm as Juan and his chemistry with Molina's slightly dopey Lazaro is the equal of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's. There's also strong support from Andrea Duro (Camila proves particularly kick-ass when it comes to taking out zombies) and Andros Perugorria, though Jazz Vilá is less effective and doesn't do anything interesting with his over-familiar stereotype.
The script is consistently amusing and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, thanks to some witty dialogue and some inspired visual gags, the best of which is Juan and an attacking zombie performing an accidental tango as they try and kill each other. There are also some clever nods towards other zombie movies, such as Juan asking a crowd why some zombies move fast and others don't and responding, “I was really hoping someone would explain that one to me.”
One slight problem (at least for British audiences) is that there are so many overtly satirical political jokes (such as a running gag about “I was there for that other thing” - whatever that means) that you start to feel like you're missing out on some big laughs. That said, several other jokes, like the news blaming America for the zombie plague, or Juan and friends referring to the zombies as “dissidents”, are more obvious.
However, the main problem is that the zombies are never particularly scary, so there's no real sense of danger, while the script misses a few opportunities to make the characters more emotionally engaging – having established that Camila and Juan are estranged, for example, there's no real follow-up scene with their relationship.
Quibbles aside, this is still an enjoyable, well acted zomcom that delivers some decent laughs, even if it's never all that scary. Worth seeing.