Cast Nic Cage, and you never know what you’re gonna get. In Kick-Ass, he famously put on an Adam West accent (despite the director’s objections), and in Vampire’s Kiss, he insisted on eating a live cockroach (again, despite the director’s objections). I’m not saying these oddities is the reason why his character in Willy’s Wonderland has zero lines, but inadvertently, it was enough to put some restraints on him. His performance here is one of his most subdued – and best – in a long time.
Stuck in a small town after his car breaks down, Cage’s unnamed character (credited as
The Janitor) is offered a one-night janitorial job to pay for his repairs. Willy’s Wonderland might be shut down, but it still needs to be cleaned for what should be suspect reasons. Not surprisingly, the Chuck E. Cheese-like entertainment center has a sordid past, and when the animatronics start coming alive, The Janitor has to fight for his life.
Cage might not have any lines, but subdued as he is, he gets plenty of opportunities to put on both Cage Rage and Cage Weird hats. An example is The Janitor’s energy-drink addiction. Routinely, his stopwatch goes off, alerting him to down a pop, and play some pinball. (Cage’s improvised pinball dance is one of his most unleashed and rewind-friendly moments.) This behavior sometimes comes at bad times, like when a group of teens who broke into the facility to help him readies for battle. Cage hands their leader (Emily Tosta) his knife and heads back to enjoy a beverage.
There isn’t a whole lot more to the plot – it’s hard to give a quiet character much development – and the story rolls forward as the night progresses. It all looks good – the color palette is gorgeous – minus some action scenes that move too fast to really show what’s actually going on. I chalk that down to the animatronics visibly being humans in costume during fight scenes.
And when all is said and done, I do like the pulpy plot-point of how the animatronics got possessed. It’s the stuff cult movies are made of.
I’m fairly certain, too, that Willy’s Wonderland is headed for that cult-movie designation, perhaps even more so than Cage’s magnum opus, Mandy. There’s a lore to this movie that goes beyond the ninety minutes, and I’m willing to put money on it getting sequels or prequels. Usually, that’s something I’d pass on, but Willy’s Wonderland’s setup makes for some intriguing possibilities. (None of which would involve Cage, alas, unless they decide to give him a backstory. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.)
Is this mandatory viewing for Cage-heads? I would say so. Just some of his facial acting is worth watching – it’s clear that Cage’s version of a tough guy is somebody who snarls their lip a lot.
Willy’s Wonderland has only fared so-so with the critics, but so be it if I’m the only one who loves this film. It’s the best type of B-movie, the kind which doesn’t wink to the camera but which still goes unapologetically all in on the pulp. It never for a minute goes dull. That’s partly thanks to Cage, but equally so due to a fun script and solid directing. And the music the animatronics play? Demented greatness all around. I’m proudly putting Willy’s Wonderland as one of the year’s best so far.
Letterboxd summary: When his car breaks down, a quiet loner agrees to clean an abandoned family fun center in exchange for repairs. He soon finds himself waging war against possessed animatronic mascots while trapped inside Willy's Wonderland.
Ratings from around the web
|One Star Classics||5/6|