Movie Mayhem – Willy’s Wonderland

Willy’s Wonderland — 2021; Directed by Kevin Lewis; Starring Nicolas Cage, Emily Tosta, Beth Grant and Ric Reitz

I’ve seen some odd and interesting movies over the last few months. With COVID-19 still wrecking havoc on the blockbuster movie schedule, many small, independent films have taken over the cineplexes, a lot of which can only be described as oddly unique. Then there’s Nicolas Cage, who, aside for the occasional voice stint, hasn’t made a major blockbuster film since 2014’s Left Behind, still has over two-dozen films to his name since. Most of these films have gone straight to DVD and/or VOD, but with his reputation, you know no matter what format it ends up in, the film is going to be one wild, crazy ride. Combine these two things together and you get Willy’s Wonderland, a bizarre film that would be wildly hysterical if it didn’t try to take itself so seriously.

Take the synopsis, for instance. Cage plays The Janitor, a silent drifter in a hot product placement Camaro. When he accidentally blows out his tires driving over conveniently-placed spike strips, he agrees to clean a rundown Chuck-E-Cheese-style entertainment center to pay for the cost of fixing his car. Little does he know that the scary animatronic mascots have been possessed by serial killers and are out for blood.

The only thing that makes this synopsis even crazier is Cage being basically mute. Not sure why director Kevin Lewis chose to do that, as it would have been a hoot to see Cage quipping at all these possessed creatures as he takes them out one by one in the only way Cage could. However, even though Cage isn’t given one word of dialogue, he still manages to create an intriguing otherworldly character, infusing the Janitor with his typical unbridled performance that is devoid of fear in all sense of the word. As the creatures haunt the Janitor, Cage plays his role as if this type of supernatural occurrence happens every day, so he might as well just go with the flow.

With his penchant to duct tape all of his wounds, change out his 80s-style Willy’s Wonderland T-shirt every time it gets sprayed with black motor oil goo, and the man’s deliberate insistence to take his self-appointed breaks on time, Cage creates a character with levels of depth you wouldn’t otherwise have believed based on the material he’s given.

So-much-so that if it wasn’t for Cage’s straight-laced, yet crazy performance, the movie would have been a complete dud. The script, written by G.O. Parsons, doesn’t have anything to say beyond killing a bunch of teenage kids that have no reason being in the film. (Remove the kids and you basically have the same movie.) Parsons tries desperately to make them relevant in every scene, but we all know they’re only around so we can see some bloody carnage.

Liv (Emily Tosta) is a survivor of a past attack by these possessed animatronic characters and was taken in by the town sheriff (Beth Grant). We first meet her as she is about to burn down the entertainment center. The sheriff catches her and locks her to a radiator at her home. Why, we’re never quite sure, as she’s quickly freed by her friends, who then return to the center to again burn it down. That’s about as far as the character depth goes for these group of kids. Even Liv’s weird father-daughter bond that grows between her and the Janitor isn’t strong enough to warrant her existence.

Beyond the typical teenage slasher film cliches (character’s getting picked off one-by-one, a pair of sex-crazed kids run off to get their jollies off, the backwood hick townsfolk with a big secret), watching Nicolas Cage go crazy without ever flinching drives the film to it’s slim 88-minute run-time. For all intents and purposes, Willy’s Wonderland would have made a perfect short film — keep the gritty, dirty cinematography, drop the kids and let Nicolas Cage be Nicolas Cage in all of his Nicolas Cage glory. Unfortunately, by stretching the film into a feature, it deadens the aspects that do make it a unique horror film. If you like Cage and a little bit of bizarre horror, catch this one on late night cable when you’re about ready to fall asleep.

My Grade: B-

Bonus Reviews:

Judas and the Black Messiah, based on the true story revolving around Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton and the FBI’s push to arrest him, showcases a ton of parallels to a lot of what’s happening in politics and society today, however, the film has a lot of substance but no depth, leaving the audience a bit cold with a lack of a truly emotional core. Listen to my full (SPOILER) review of Judas and the Black Messiah on Ramblin’ Reviews: B+

Next week, new movies include Nomadland, Flora and Ulysses (Disney+) and I Care A Lot (Netflix). If you would like to see a review for this, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.

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