Juan (Alexis Díaz de Villegas) is what he describes as a collector, picking up things here and there in his Cuban home and getting by with that. He understands why some of his countrymen would yearn to escape to Miami, but that's not for him, not because he's superpatriotic, but because he finds life easier in Havana. He often teams up with his best friend Lazaro (Jorge Molina) to fish in the sea on their raft, but today something odd happens: they're floating along off the coast, when a dead body bobs up, only they thought it was dead but then it looks up and growls...
Yes, the zombies have arrived in Cuba, in one of the few horror movies ever to emerge from that nation, though not the first if the cartoon Vampires in Havana had anything to say about it. Of course, as with just about every country making horror flicks in the twenty-first century, this had to be about the walking dead, although the best of these used what had become an overused cliché in the genre and gave it a novel spin, so Shaun of the Dead, Juan's most obvious inspiration, was a comedy with a dose of turn of the millennium malaise, and that dissatisfaction with the state of the world was apparent here, bravely considering Cuba was not the place to be making overly critical messages.
But this went a little deeper in its musings than might first appear on the surface: take Juan, for example, who rather than an outright heroic figure is more of an anti-hero, a wastrel who has never made anything of his life, though has sired a daughter, Camila (Andrea Duro), who doesn't want anything to do with him as she wishes not to go down the same no-hoper path that her father has. Of course, a crisis is just the thing to bring people together and so it is here as the zombies begin to make their presence felt; Juan, for all his lesser qualities, finds a purpose though first has to succeed in his self-improvement by going through a phase of trying to capitalise on the suffering of his fellow countrymen.
Yes, once they work out how to stop the undead Juan and Lazaro set up their own business - "We kill your loved ones" is their slogan - to lessen the infestation seeing as how the authorities cannot cope, broadcasting public service announcements blaming the Imperialists for the disaster, which may or may not be true (we never find out), but is no help anyway when they should be mobilising a suppression of the menace (though the buses still run!). So the chancer of the title - Juan de los Muertos as it originally was - starts to feel his every man for himself attitude come around to a more altruistic point of view, almost by default as if he cannot help others then he's not going to last very long in a world where walking corpses are taking chunks out of his fellow Cubans.
In the same way, the people he finds himself helping warm to Camila's idea that maybe they shouldn't just be looking out for themselves, and if Lazaro has a tendency to kill people who haven't turned into zombies yet, even he has his heart in the right place by the grand finale. This conscience raising would be all very well, but fortunately to lighten the load there's a strong line in humour as well, maybe not consistently hilarious, but capable of raising a laugh as the characters bungle and muddle their way through disaster, with only a notable amount of what could be seen as anti-gay jokes souring the enjoyment, although equally this could be another example of Juan and Lazaro's obnoxiousness making itself plain for all to see, and the gay characters can give as good as they get. If you want gore, then that's here too, with heads flying, especially in an ingenious method of disabling a horde of zombies in one go, and the way in which Juan finds he cannot give up on his homeland is oddly inspiring, if not exactly logical. Music by Carles Gusi.