Willy’s Wonderland

★★★

To have any chance of digging the latest Nicolas Cage cheesefest “Willy’s Wonderland” (now on VOD and playing in limited theatrical release – including runs in Lafayette, Lebanon and Mooresville, Ind.) you must have at least one of the following attributes: 1.) You gotta dig Cage. 2.) You need to be familiar with or have played the video game “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” of which this is a blatant rip-off. 3.) You need to have been to or have familiarity with Chuck E. Cheese (OGs like me are partial to ShowBiz Pizza). The more of these attributes you have – the better you’ll enjoy “Willy’s Wonderland,” which admittedly isn’t especially good but it’s awfully entertaining.

Cage stars as The Janitor, a silent (and I mean SILENT … Cage doesn’t utter a single solitary word during the flick’s duration) drifter whose cherry Camaro has its tires popped by a spike strip in the backwater town of Haysville – home of the shuttered family eatery and arcade Willy’s Wonderland. The Janitor doesn’t have the funds needed to get his car fixed so mechanic Jed Love (Chris Warner) brokers a deal between him and Tex Macadoo (Ric Reitz in a role that seems like it was written for Mickey Rourke or Don Johnson, but they couldn’t afford either of ‘em), owner of Willy’s. If The Janitor stays in Willy’s overnight and gets the place cleaned up and ready to reopen his repaired ride will be awaiting him.

Complications arise in the form of Sheriff Lund (ace character actress Beth Grant), her adopted daughter Liv (Emily Tosta) and Liv’s friends Chris (Kai Kadlec), Kathy (Caylee Cowan), Dan (Jonathan Mercedes), Bob (Terayle Hill) and Aaron (Christian Delgrosso). The teens hope to set Willy’s ablaze as numerous horrors have transpired there, but cannot do so in good conscience while The Janitor’s locked inside.

Further complicating matters: The Janitor is engaging in full-blown combat with the reanimated animatronic robot animals that inhabit the joint. They are Siren Sara (Jessica Graves Davis), Cammy the Chameleon (Taylor Towery), Tito the Turtle (Chris Schmidt Jr.), Arty the Alligator (Chris Bradley), Knighty Knight (Duke Jackson), Gus the Gorilla (Billy Bussey), Ozzie the Ostrich (BJ Guyer) and last but certainly not least, Willy the Weasel (Jiri Stanek).

Cage is fun in the flick despite not speaking. He brings a palpable physicality to the role that primarily consists of him doing janitorial work (there are three separate cleaning montages), beating the bots to an oily pulp, playing pinball and slugging back a plethora of Punch pops (a soda that sports the slogan, “A fistful of caffeine to your kisser,” that sorta serves as spinach to The Janitor’s Popeye). Unfortunately, the fights are sort of a jumble (probably to obscure budgetary limitations) due to the disorienting cinematography and editing of David Newbert and Ryan Liebert. That said Cage’s The Janitor ups the ante on Edward Norton in “American History X” by stomping Gus the Gorilla on a urinal as opposed to a curb.

“Willy’s Wonderland” is directed by Kevin Lewis (who hasn’t made a movie in 14 years) and written by G.O. Parsons (whose only previous writing credit is “Killer Sharks: The Attacks of Black December” from Shark Week 10 years ago). It’s fairly shoddily made and sports more lens flares than the filmographies of Steven Spielberg, John McTiernan and J.J. Abrams combined. (I shit you not – there are even lens flares over the closing credits.)

The movie has a reported budget of $5.5 million, but looks closer to the 20 bucks I spent renting it. I suspect the bulk of the filmmakers’ budget went towards the Lynyrd Skynyrd “Free Bird” needle drop during the finale. In spite of all these criticisms, I still enjoyed “Willy’s Wonderland.” It probably helps that I’m a Cage fanboy and watched the flick projected on a 106-inch screen in my buddy’s basement while eating breakfast burritos and drinking Screwdrivers (Thanks, Ross!). This is a cult movie in the making. I can’t in good conscience recommend you spend $20.00 renting it as I did, but wholeheartedly suggest renting it from Redbox or streaming from whichever service lands it somewhere down the line. It’ll be all the better watched with friends (either in person or virtually) and chemically altered.

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