'Willy's Wonderland' Has More Comedy Than Scares
By Dan Dubon | February 20, 2021
In Willy’s Wonderland, a quiet loner played by Nicolas Cage finds himself stranded in a remote town when his car breaks down. Unable to pay for the repairs he needs, he agrees to spend the night cleaning Willy’s Wonderland, an abandoned Chuck E. Cheese–style family-fun center owned by a man named Tex Macadoo (Ric Reitz, Remember the Titans, Flight). But this wonderland has a dark secret that the “The Janitor” is about to discover. He soon finds himself trapped inside and locked in an epic battle with the possessed animatronic mascots that roam the halls. To survive, he must fight his way through each of them.
Director Kevin Lewis (The Drop, The Method, Malibu Spring Break) doesn’t just embrace the B-movie aesthetic; he goes full throttle. Willy’s Wonderland revels in its desire to be a cult classic, from the casting of Cage as a badass who doesn’t speak a word of dialogue to the hokey effects to the cinematography that looks like badly lit VHS tape. Willy’s Wonderland wants to be so bad that it’s great, but it only succeeds halfway.
Cage is easily the best part of the film, and you have to give the fallen Oscar-winner some credit for not only recognizing that he’s become a joke, but deciding actually to go with it and have fun with his persona, which here includes taking breaks between killing demonic animatronics to play pinball and guzzle, can after can of a drink that is labeled “Punch Pop,” because there’s nothing like great world-building in fiction. The movie can be as idiotic as you can imagine, and Nic will still throw himself into it with gusto, even if it means matching its level of idiocy. That's why, in my mind, he is still an actor that commits to what he does unlike other fellow actors such as Bruce Willis. That being said, the rest of the performances here range from weak to terrible.
As much as the movie would love to be 90 minutes of Cage quietly glowering at menacing machines, it can't be, so other characters roll in to both add to the bloodshed and also fill out the Willy lore. Emily Tosta's Liv, along with her circle of soon-to-be-butchered friends, is hellbent on ending the terror that Willy's inflicts on others. She's sort of a lone crusader in Hayesville, willing to stand up to Willy and his horde, and she forms an alliance with Cage's Janitor. Though due to the Janitor's oddball habits and enigmatic work regimen (which, again, we don't really get closure on) it's a strained connection. It's clear, however, that she's drawn to him as an outsider since that's how she feels herself.
Beth Grant, Ric Reitz, and Chris Warner fill out the adult roles here as secretive and shifty members of Hayesville who have devious designs for Cage's lone wolf. It's all rather splattery and silly but tonally it works and everyone squeezes out a solid small-scale performance. Unfortunately, there are moments, particularly with Cage's character, where you want a few more answers, and for the story to stretch its legs a little more, but Willy's Wonderland is kind of an "as-is" slaughterfest.
Willy’s Wonderland is not unwatchable, but it’s nothing to freak out over either. If you want to waste some time watching Cage doing what he does best - going full Cage - then this movie will appeal to you.