starring Nicolas Cage, Emily Tosta, Ric Reitz, Beth Grant
written by G.O. Parsons
directed by Kevin Lewis
by Walter Chaw Kevin Lewis's high-concept Nicolas Cage-vs.-Chuck E. Cheese thriller Willy's Wonderland misses because it believes it can't miss. Star Cage has built a career for himself as that weirdo who will do stupid movies, and here he is playing The Janitor, a man of no words who cleans things up. A real contempt for the audience roils off this garbage, the belief that there need be no real effort expended in the creation of this product as long as there's enough Nic Cage doing dumb shit as bizarrely as possible. It's lazy. There's one long exposition dump towards the beginning of it, delivered by a somehow and sorely overmatched Emily Tosta, about Satanic rituals and stuff at the local theme restaurant, and honestly, it was all done better in that video game "Five Nights at Freddy's", where the reason for the robot characters springing to homicidal life isn't really addressed at all. It's painfully bad, Willy's Wonderland, in exactly the way things are bad when a bunch of bros get together to capitalize on a phenomenon they can't begin to understand and couldn't be bothered to interrogate. Cage + animatronic monsters? As William Hurt once asked, "How do you fuck that up?"
The Janitor spends the night in a demonic novelty pizzeria, over the course of which he summarily dispatches a menagerie of grotesque robots. There's something to unpack about the curb-stomping of the gorilla against a urinal, as well as the fact that the Janitor disturbingly murders the most anthropomorphic animatronic--a pixie with a woman's body--by kneeling on her face. I'm going to hazard that it's a lot of unexamined racism and misogyny employed without intentional malice. The rules for the Janitor appear to be that whenever a timer he's wearing goes off, he stops what he's doing to play a round of pinball and down an energy drink. Then a bunch of badly-written, nay, barely-written teens break in and are slaughtered in stupid ways in carelessly set-up/sloppily paid-off sequences that absolutely reek of a lack of imagination, an ability to create tension, and an absence of motivation to work hard at it. Willy's Wonderland is bereft of curiosity and ambition. It doesn't see any need to be good, so it's not good. It apes a few editing tricks from Edgar Wright without any of Wright's energy or invention--without, in particular, any love. This is a cynical play for your money and time: a quickie in the bathroom that makes you feel bad about yourself. You have better things to do.
What concerns me is the thought that Cage doesn't feel like he has better things to do--that this is for him the cultivation of what he believes is his niche. I once read an interview with Christopher Walken in which he said he didn't mind being typecast as the quirky villain because nobody else can play Christopher Walken. The longer conversation around Cage should be that he's a more-than-capable dramatic actor, romantic lead, and action hero. His lost Superman project with Tim Burton is a thing I still mourn from time to time. In my mind, he's a bit like Treat Williams, who at some point seemed to give up the dream of becoming respected and decided instead to be remembered. Cage in Willy's Wonderland doesn't have a single line of dialogue and it reads a little like petulance, maybe a minor revolt against his reductive commodification. You came for a signature Cage vocal freak-out? Well, fuck you, you're just gonna get me getting sprayed with fluids while screaming and murdering; are you not entertained?! Well, no, I'm not. I'm insulted that the people behind this believe that taking an actor I love for granted, marooning him in the middle of a movie with no script, no cleverness, and no supporting help, is something I'd want to see. If he were a football player, he'd be asking for a trade to a contender. Or he'd retire.