Bonkers "Willy's Wonderland" gives you exactly what it promises
Willy’s Wonderland (2021)
For a movie that promises Nicolas Cage beating the fur out of murderous animatronic Chuck E. Cheese rejects, “Willy’s Wonderland” gives you . . . Nicolas Cage beating the fur out of murderous animatronic Chuck E. Cheese rejects. Nothing more, and nothing less. Director Kevin Lewis and writer G.O. Parsons seem to know they have a bonkers gimmick that can barely sustain itself as a whole feature, but they go for it anyway. Never pretending to be more than an unabashed mash-up of “The Banana Splits Movie” and popular video game “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” “Willy’s Wonderland” is exactly what you think it will be, whether you want it or not, and just violently wacky enough for genre fans to get behind.
Billed only as “The Janitor,” Nicolas Cage plays a silent drifter whose Camaro blows all four tires in the yokel town of Hayesville, Nevada, where there isn’t a single working ATM. When the local mechanic tows the loner’s sports car, he agrees to repair the ride if “Janitor” spends the night cleaning and mopping Willy’s Wonderland, a family fun center that has been out of business for years. Once “Janitor” is given a free staff T-shirt and locked in, he gets to work, only to be interrupted by the seemingly stationary mascots of Willy’s Wonderland that have a thirst to kill their latest sacrifice. Adding to the body count, teenage survivor Liv (Emily Tosta) is determined to set things right and burn the restaurant to the grown if she and her friends can even survive the night.
“Willy’s Wonderland” may only execute the bare minimum of its conceptual promise, but there is always off-the-wall fun and mayhem to be had from this horror-comedy’s rinse-and-repeat formula. Set-pieces involving Arty the Alligator in a crawl space, the slinky sprite Siren Sara, and a showdown with “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” on the sound speaker capitalize the most on the creepy idea of a family-friendly playland becoming a slaughterhouse. The fact that the rat-like Willy and his other animatronic buddies resemble costumed furries at times and then actual robots at other times can be questionable but lends to the creepy-comic tone. There is also an origin story to how the animatronics have become possessed, explained by Liv, and it is suitably sordid and preposterously nutty.
Making “Janitor” a man of nods and no words is a gamble that does not make him the most accessible of characters. Having him being played by a wordless Nicolas Cage might seem like a waste of Cage’s verbally unhinged abilities, too, but this is a badass of a guy not without quirks. He will take a break from defeating the kill-happy (yet easily destructible) animatronics and get his fix of chugging a Punch Pop can and playing pinball. His work ethic is even impressive, literally attacking the robots with his hands behind his back at one point and always cleaning up after himself (you better believe he changes his shirt after every kill and puts those mechanical corpses in trash bags). There's also just something hard to dislike about a movie where virtually everyone is useless except for the Cage character. Everyone plays the scenario for real, including character actor Beth Grant, who’s having fun and brings her usual energetic lip as the no-nonsense sheriff. Liv’s friends are purely stock fodder ready to be eviscerated, going so far as to have the sexpot of the stereotypical group still find it an opportune time to sneak off with her boyfriend and have sex in “the Happy Room.” If “Willy’s Wonderland” sounds like your kind of thing, it will be a sure thing.
Grade: B -
Screen Media released “Willy Wonderland” (88 min.) on digital and on demand February 12, 2021.