February 12, 2021 Willy’s Wonderland (Movie Review)
In Jurassic Park, Dr. Ian Malcolm famously quips, “If the Pirates Of The Caribbean [ride] breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.” Fair enough. But what if the animatronic characters at Chuck E. Cheese go off the rails on a crazy train and try to annihilate the overnight janitor, who just so happens to be Nicolas Cage? Well, then you have Willy’s Wonderland, which arrives to select theaters, Digital and On Demand on Friday, February 12, 2021 thanks to Screen Media Films.
Directed by Kevin Lewis (The Method 1996, The Drop 2006) and written by G.O. Parsons (Shark Week series documentary), the plot of Willy’s Wonderland is indeed ludicrous. Cage (Leaving Las Vegas 1995, Mandy 2018) stars as a quiet drifter whose car breaks down in a remote town and, stranded with no other options, he’s forced to work overnight as a janitor at an abandoned family entertainment center to pay for his car repair. Of course none of the friendly locals bother to inform their guest that the town has a dirty secret, one that hungers for human flesh.
Fortunately or unfortunately, a determined young townie named Liv (Emily Tosta: Mayans M.C. series, Party of Five series) soon intervenes. With her friends—Chris (Kai Kadlec: Two Sides series, Dropouts series), Aaron (Christian Delgrosso: Mooom series, School Spirits 2017), Bob (Terayle Hill: Step Up: High Water series, Cobra Kai series), and Kathy (Caylee Cowan: Sunrise in Heaven 2019, Incision 2020)—at her side, she attempts to rescue the unwitting victim trapped inside the dilapidated Willy’s. But in order to be of any assistance she and her gang must survive long enough to fight at the janitor’s side in this epic battle against possessed mascots from Hell.
Willy’s Wonderland also features the acting talents of Chris Warner (Idiocracy 2006, Machete 2010), Ric Reitz (Safe Haven 2013, The Loft 2014), Beth Grant (Speed 1994, Donnie Darko 2001), David Sheftell (The Young and the Restless series, Family Guy series), and more.
Additionally, the Wonderland characters are so cruelly but brilliantly brought to life by Jiri Stanek (Ravenous 1999, The Walking Dead series), Christopher Bradley (Time Lapse 2014, Lazarus Rising 2015), Taylor Towery (Cell 2016, Halloween 2018), Jessica Graves Davis, Mark Gagliardi (Drunk History series, Blood & Treasure series), D.J. Stavropoulos (Ozark series, The First Wives Club series), BJ Guyer (The Muppets 2011, Grudge Match 2013), Chris Schmidt Jr., Émoi, Duke Jackson (Captain America: Civil War 2016, Godzilla: King of the Monsters 2019), and Abel Arias (Today’s Temp short 2010, Angie Tribeca series).
What does one say about Willy’s Wonderland? At 88 minutes, in which Cage never speaks a single word, this Comedy-Thriller is clearly intended for lowbrow amusement purposes. You can’t exactly expect much from a film that is chock full of beer, pinball, animatronic blood splatter, an ostrich that wants to “feast on your face,” and a gorilla who wants to play games like Jigsaw. Like 2004’s Shaun of the Dead, Lewis’ latest doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it is: an intentionally asinine diversion from the stress of the past 12 months, and one that does its job effectively and with a ‘stony’ sense of humor.
Willy’s Wonderland shares some similarities with 2019’s The Banana Splits Movie, another flick where children’s robotic characters go on a murder spree. However, where the Banana Splits attempt to maintain their demure nature, at least in the beginning, Willy Weasel and his friends are no-good from moment one. Further diverging from its yellow brethren, this film offers a gritty nostalgia, bringing to mind ‘70s and ‘80s B-movies with its muted colors and moody tones, along with a truly divine Retrowave score by Émoi (Ups + Downs short 2016, Corked short 2020).
Carefully crafting an intensely awkward vibe, which is aided by Cage’s silent scowls, it revels in its own pointlessness. Which, perhaps, is the genius of Willy’s Wonderland: casting Cage as The Janitor. The veteran actor’s silent intensity only propels the comedic plot as he marks each kill with a t-shirt change and carefully tracks his allotted break times. Like the owl trying to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, Cage languidly licks away at the filth and grime as his character seems entirely unaware of the plot to make him a human sacrifice. At the pinnacle of his performance, the indentured cleaning crew turned unintentional action hero offers up a hair-flailing dance to the pinball gods, one that cements his extraordinary cool.
But the bottom line is that the key to your enjoyment is to not ask the important questions, like how an entire town couldn’t defeat these bloodthirsty creatures but a man with a mop can kill two of them with his hands literally tied behind his back. Also, don’t ask why the machines bleed, and definitely do not go into the Super Happy Fun Room. Just accept your consultation prize of a perfectly placed “Free Bird,” and know that the fun never ends at Willy’s Wonderland. Stupid brilliant, Cryptic Rock gives Willy’s Wonderland 4 of 5 stars.