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Lighting fails to strike twice in Alejandro Brugues’s Juan of the Dead, which hopes to mimic the action-comedy mayhem of Shaun of the Dead in Cuba but falls far short. Too amateurish for theatrical distribution in the States, it does have enough exploitable novelty for a niche DVD release.
As the title character, Alexis Días de Villegas is the brightest light in an uninspiring cast, playing a small-time hood leading a handful of lowlifes against an attack of the undead. (“Dissidents,” as official news reports dub them — a nice touch among the picture’s numerous references to the country’s political and economic landscape.)
The first time they witness a zombie attack, at a community meeting, the crew is about as agitated as they’d be if a panhandler had started hassling people. But eventually they find the plot, hiring themselves out with the slogan “we kill your loved ones.” Brugues’s script runs through a string of encounters and slaying techniques with comic potential, but most earn chuckles (if that) instead of laughter. In an unusual and unwelcome departure from genre convention, Juan has an awfully cavalier attitude toward the heroes’ opportunistic slaying of the still-living: In one particularly ugly instance, Juan’s pal Lazaro lets flesh-eaters devour a handicapped man so he can use the guy’s wheelchair to carry looted booze.
Eventually, the aimless script decides the crew should try to get off the island, and something approaching momentum emerges. But the action is cobbled together too blatantly from spare parts of better films, and the obvious fakeness of its CGI effects fails to convince us of the danger they’re fleeing.
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival
Production Companies: La Zanfona Producciones/La 5ta avenida.
Cast: Alexis Días de Villegas, Jorge Molina, Andrea Duro, Andros Perugorria, Jazz Vila, Eliecer Ramirez.
Director-screenwriter: Alejandro Brugues.
Producers: Gervasio Iglesias, Inti Herrera.
Executive producers: Gervasio Iglesias, Inti Herrera, Claudia Calvino.
Director of photography: Carles Gusi.
Production designer: Derubin Jacome.
Music: Sergio Valdes.
Editor: Mercedes Cantero.
No rating, 95 minutes.
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