Film Review: Willy’s Wonderland
Director: Kevin Lewis
Streaming on Video on Demand 02.12
Anyone who is a devoted fan of the glory days of The Simpsons likely remembers Billy and the Cloneasaurus. It’s Principle Skinner’s blockbuster movie idea that he’s sure is brilliant and totally original, but which Apu derisively explains is exactly the same story as Jurassic Park down to the last detail. I find it very unlikely that G.O. Parsons, the screenwriter of Willy’s Wonderland, didn’t at some point have his own Apu pointing out that he was writing a movie version of Five Nights At Freddy’s.
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 takes it to bed without buying it dinner first or even using a condom. 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 S-VHS. Willy’s Wonderland wants to be so bad that it’s great, but it only succeeds halfway. It’s going to make a great episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 someday.
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. Whatever else you want to say about Nic Cage, even in these schlocky, straight-to-VOD movies, he never phones it in the way Bruce Willis does. 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 is why, in my mind, he is still an actor where Willis is merely a washed-up celebrity. That being said, the rest of the performances here range from weak to terrible.
If the video game mega-franchise that the idea is lifted from didn’t exist, then Willy’s Wonderland would go up a few notches in my book for being a strangely unique and goofy horror film, but even if you buy into the idea that Parsons was unaware of the existence of Five Nights At Freddy’s—and I don’t—the fact is that it does exist, it has a legit feature film adaptation in pre-production, and cutting Willy’s Wonderland that kind of slack is like trying to say that “Ice, Ice Baby” would have one of the greatest song intros ever if “Under Pressure” had never been written, or that Newsmax would serve an invaluable purpose if only there were no such thing as crotch lice.
Willy’s Wonderland is not unwatchable, but it’s not even the best new Nicolas Cage movie I’ve seen in the past three weeks, and I didn’t much care for the other one. Don’t waste your time or money. –Patrick Gibbs