[Review] ‘WILLY’S WONDERLAND’ – Nicolas Cage at the showbiz slaughterama

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Travis Leamons // Film Critic

WILLY’S WONDERLAND

Rated R, 88 minutes.
Director: Kevin Lewis
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Emily Tosta, Ric Reitz, and Beth Grant

Not everyone can have an acting career as distinguished as Daniel Day-Lewis. With twenty features and three Best Actor Oscars to his name (and three more nominations), Day-Lewis may as well be the acting equivalent to NFL’s Tom Brady.

Then there’s Nicolas Cage.

He’s an Oscar winner, too. But that win seems like a lifetime ago. Cage’s filmography is littered with oddball characters in extraordinary circumstances. But he can also play it straight, dialing down the wild and crazy, and find himself as a Frank Capra-esque family man or a weatherman who doesn’t have it all together. WILLY’S WONDERLAND is not Cage as the warm and fuzzy type.

He appears like a bat out of hell in a souped-up Camaro and looking like a melange of previous characters rolled into one (with fashion tips from Stuntman Mike). Cage’s joyride comes to a screeching halt thanks to a spike strip. Quickly after that, a tow truck arrives on the scene. How convenient.

The garrulous driver tows him to the nearby town of Hayesville, which might as well be Hicksville, USA. Four flats and fix amounts to a $1000 bill. The town has no working ATM or internet service, and he doesn’t take plastic. Cage is given the option to work off the debt for Tex Macadoo (Ric Reitz), owner of Willy’s Wonderland. A Chuck E. Cheese wannabe, Willy’s is a broken-down, boarded-up entertainment establishment, once perfect for children’s birthday parties. It even has an animatronic character band.

Willy’s has been out of business for years, but Tex is looking to reopen. All he needs is some cheap elbow grease—the offer: one night of custodial service for a fixed ride. What Tex doesn’t tell our nameless driver (who is simply listed as The Janitor in the closing credits) is that the animatronic band is possessed. They don’t just have a killer setlist, they kill for real.

Locked inside with a closet full of cleaning products and a stack of Willy’s Wonderland printed tees, Cage goes about making the place look spic and span. But as the night progresses, our janitor gets interrupted by animatronic antagonists like “Siren Sara,” “Knighty Knight,” and bandleader “Willy the Weasel.” Cage breaks by guzzling cans of Punch Pop and playing pinball in between fighting robotic ostriches and gorillas. The carbonated beverage is like Popeye’s canned spinach or Mario’s mushrooms; it keeps him wired, giving him the added stimulus to scrub, mop, and kill all night long.

Joining Cage at the Satanic Slaughterama – a simple backstory flashback that explains the play palace’s horrible history – is a group of teenagers that show up merely to add to the body count once they break in. They know the story and the town’s execute role in letting the building remain upright and off-limits. Still, they venture inside and pay the price. The lone exception is Emily Tosta’s Liv, who conveniently finds herself as the prerequisite final girl. She’s the brains of the outfit and has a special reason to destroy Willy’s once and for all.

How Cage has attained is supposed aura as thespian is indecipherable. Mad as a hatter one moment, even footing the next, he has a legion of fans that gravitate to his projects and character choices like moths to a flame. WILLY’S WONDERLAND is most definitely in their wheelhouse, and this is midnight mass(acre) for genre fans. Cage doesn’t utter a single word, instead of using gestures and a few grunts in shouldering the load. It works to staggering effect on Cage’s account, and the aura he’s has generated on account of his proclivity for the weird and absurd.

Aside from Cage, the cast’s most notable name is Beth Grant, one of those “that gal” types you notice from a dozen different things but not necessarily know her by name. Appearing in films as diverse as SPEED and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, she plays the town sheriff and has been impassive to the goings-on at Wonderland. She is well aware of what happens but is more than willing to let the evil robots have their human sacrifices if it means no harm comes to the locals.

WILLY’S WONDERLAND is a full-tilt boogie best enjoyed with friends and your favorite caffeinated beverage. Cage may be a man with no name, but don’t mistake this B-movie as A FISTFUL OF TOKENS despite its game room environment. Had screenwriter G.O. Parsons ditched the obnoxious teens and kept the focus primarily on Cage’s Punch-Popped mudhole stomping, this little funhouse of horrors would have been an even bigger battle royale bloodbath. It’s still entertaining in soaked-in-grease, stuff crust pizza sort of way. Moseying down the road to some Skynard, free as a bird.

Grade: C+

WILLY’S WONDERLAND is now playing in select theaters and available On-Demand.


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