Nicolas Cage’s cult appeal becomes rusty in Willy’s Wonderland, a tongue-in-cheek horror-thriller featuring the actor squaring off against animatronic creeps in an abandoned children’s play place.
Cage plays a “man with no name” who is stranded in a small town in Nevada after his muscle car goes bust. He’s offered a repair on his car in exchange for cleaning up Willy’s Wonderland, a former legendary local staple, over the course of a single night. The man agrees as best as someone can who doesn’t talk – at all. Over the course of the evening and the wee hours of the morning, the mystery behind Willy’s Wonderland becomes more apparent through backstory told by generic cops and a clique of annoying teenagers trying to burn the place to the ground. The man seems unsurprised by any of the history, and he’s especially unfazed when he’s suddenly being attacked by the mechanical staff of Willy’s Wonderland.
Kevin Lewis’ movie fails on two counts of Cage – by enabling the actor’s ego and neglecting to direct him effectively. The story of Willy’s Wonderland has been inspired by Five Nights at Freddy’s, a video game where the player must survive in a fun house and avoid attacks by demonic animatronics. But, the movie borrows quite heavily from previous movies in Cage’s filmography. Notably the underrated action flick Drive Angry and the overrated thriller Mandy: the former for its “bad ass” attitude, the latter for its hyper-stylistic choices.
Screenwriter G.O. Parsons provides a one-note narrative with jokes and zingers that fall flat, which puts more pressure on director Lewis to zhuzh up the personality of his film. Unfortunately, and perhaps in an act of intimidation, Lewis either doesn’t appear to have control over Cage or is too much of a fanboy to challenge him. Instead, we get a collection of quirks that don’t contribute to the movie in any way. I suppose watching the actor pop-and-lock while playing an intense game of pinball is supposed to make us laugh but, weirdly enough, this behaviour is too predictable.
There’s also a huge problem with a silent Cage refusing to react to anything in the movie. The fights may look tame and the animatronic costumes are non-threatening (Canadian readers, think Polka Dot Door’s Polkaroo), the act of being randomly attacked would make anyone react. Cage, hardly batting an eye or even shrugging a shoulder, beats these creatures up, reigns victorious, and goes about his cleaning. It’s a dull routine, and the filmmakers assume no other effort is required because a famous actor – known for their eccentric performances – is in an unusual situation. Forget about this resembling a movie, this is barely an idea for a movie.
Willy’s Wonderland is a missed opportunity, another strike against Nicolas Cage’s career choices, and one of the worst movies of the year.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie