Ever since Nicolas Kim Coppola (known to fans and foes alike as Nicolas Cage) switched up his roles to match the type of deranged acting choices that made him unlike every other actor of his generation it seems he has an extra sense of renewed vigour. Whether it’s his acid fueled deliverer of vengeance in the hallucinogenic masterpiece Mandy or a llama farmer under an alien influence in Color Out Of Space, Cage’s appearance in multiple low-budget loony-fests seems to caused him to finally found the environment that let’s him do whatever the hell he wants – and apparently what he wants to do is curb stomp an animatronic gorilla’s dental work through a bathroom urinal….
A sneering loner burns into town only to mess up his tyres on a set of “lost” police spikes just left in the middle of the road and in order to get a local mechanic to fix things up overnight, he agrees to work off the debt by cleaning up a dilapidated themed restaurant named Willy’s Wonderland. Instructed by magnificently named restaurant owner Tex Macadoo, “The Janitor” stocks up on his favorite soda, sets his digital watch to alert him when it’s time to take a break and gets down to scrubbing up the run-down shit hole.
However, in these kinds of movies there’s always a catch and Willy’s Wonderland’s catch comes in the shape of the demonically possessed animatronic mascots that come alive and murder anyone within reach of their spongey claws and plastic teeth and so the Janitor alternates his night between polishing counters and beating giant cuddly monster to death with a broom handle.
Meanwhile, defiant teen Liv and her group of obviously disposable friends are sick of this conspiracy of the townsfolk to sacrifice strangers to Willy and his pals and head to the restaurant to burn it down once and for all but somehow get trapped inside (fuckin’ kids, am I right?).
As the Janitor tirelessly continues to clean up regardless of teenagers getting torn apart all over the place, the townsfolk responsible for making the deal with the murderous mascots also decide to get involved in order to protect the pact they’ve made and the scene is set for a showdown unlike any other.
Surely the most absurd of Cage’s recent output by far (until his next one, that is), Willy’s Wonderland may (somehow) not be as totally original as it thinks it is – fans of Five Nights At Freddy’s and The Banana Splits Movie may crinkle their noses in suspicion – but there’s just enough here to make it a flawed, but fun outing.
The main problem is that there isn’t nearly enough material to cover the crazy premise with the existing plot stretched as tight as a drum to drag itself to fill barely ninety minutes of runtime. It’s the only thing about the story that IS tight, as the movie tends to tread water whenever it focuses on anyone who isn’t it’s enigmatic lead or a nine-foot weasel.
The clutch of teens are a bunch of stock morons who are directed by the script to do inane horror movie tropes that somehow stretch the credibility of a film that features the Oscar winning lead of Leaving Las Vegas maniacally caving in the skull of a killer ostrich. Even in a film as tongue in cheek as this, I seriously doubt any couple could get horny in a building that they KNOW is infested with killer Muppets and yet they keep grinding away even when they notice that Arty The Alligator is giving the stink-eye – yes, this is supposed to be an absurd movie but even that’s a step too far…
So why exactly did I enjoy Willy’s Wonderland so much then? It couldn’t just be for the funky 80’s vibe as the feeling of making a movie that feels like you found a dusty VHS copy in the corner of a bargin bin in Blockbuster is hardly original. It’s not because of the endearingly daffy concept either as the budget doesn’t really allow helmer Kevin Lewis (a director of a bunch of previous movies I’ve never heard of) to truly run wild with it. No, the reason I finished Willy’s Wonderland with a silly smile on my face is chiefly down to the performance of it’s star who puts in a deceptively genius performance made entirely of gurns, tics and the judicial use of ultra-violence while bellowing incoherently. The Janitor requires Cage (also producing) to not actually utter a single word during the entire movie – not one! – and yet he’s a magnetic presence who’s engrained habits lead to a ritualistic personality of hammering back soda pop and going on his designated breaks no matter what that often leads to the movie’s best moments. Completely unflappable, psychotically dedicated to cleaning the restaurant and actually fucking off at one point, mid-fight in order to take a quick fifteen to drink yet more soda and rock out while playing some pinball, Cage’s impressive, less-is-more characterization becomes more fascinating the less you know about him and funnier the less he does. Although I wish I could air lift his character into a similar movie with a bigger budget and a crazier director (imagine if Sam Raimi had sunk his claws into this), it’s this exact type of genre that lets Cage’s experimentation work so well and why I’m personally loving this stage of his career. Admittedly this creates somewhat of a Nic Cage Paradox: Willy’s Wonderland may not exactly deserve his central performance, but then it wouldn’t exist if this movie hadn’t been made. But then, can’t you then argue that that’s precisely the reason Nicolas Cage exists at all: to generate wildly fluctuating opinions by making decisions that make no sense whatsoever?
Hopefully the actor will continue to do the complete opposite of what common sense dictates (could you imagine the carnage if he was to team with Rob Zombie or Eli Roth?), I just hope he can continue to find the talent and budgets to support his unique brand of gonzo mania and continue to remain… uncaged.