It’s shouldn’t surprise that Willy’s Wonderland is an amusing enough experience, but it lacks the craft that would make it a more memorable blast.
The meme-ification of Nicolas Cage continues unabated in Willy’s Wonderland, a harmless but mostly dull sort-of horror-comedy that strains to be much more than an 85-minute logline: Cage vs. the demon-possessed animatronic puppets in a kids’ party restaurant. Someone evidently thought, “Hey, you could make a movie out of that.” And indeed, they did.
After his car breaks down in some generic little movie town, The Janitor (Cage, and yes that’s his character’s only name) finds himself stuck with the task of cleaning out a derelict Chuck E. Cheese-style restaurant in exchange for auto repairs (sure). Of course, what nobody bothered to tell him is that the place used to be headquarters for a bunch of family-murdering Satanists who used black magic to transfer their souls into the robotic puppets in the house band, presumably so that they could continue with their blood sacrificing undisturbed. I’m sure it made sense at the time. Anyway, it’s not spoiling much to say that the townsfolk have given up trying to get rid of the problem, and instead just waylay unwary travelers in order to feed the needs of their local monstrous demonic novelty pizza joint.
That’s literally the extent of the situation. Cage — to his eternal credit — continues to take stuff like this seriously even while his audience treats him like a joke, and believe it or not, he’s managed to make a genuinely curious and interesting character out of this prank. His performance is completely free of dialogue, and so instead of really hamming it up, his stoic, supernatural ass-kicker is all physical presence. It’s just that this presence is committed to thoroughly cleaning the bathroom, kitchen, and dining area — at length (one eagerly imagines the Jeanne Dielman-esque movie in which Nicolas Cage does housework for three hours). In between the infrequent, barely-coherent fights with giant weird robot puppets, he also takes meticulously-timed breaks for a can of his favorite soda (he brought a case with him) and extremely enthusiastic rounds of pinball. It’s amusing enough, but it lacks the indelible craft of something like The Evil Dead that might make it a more memorable blast.
Is Willy’s Wonderland about anything? In the moment — especially when Cage is onscreen, just doing his thing — it feels slightly too purposeful to be simply weird for its own sake, but if there is indeed something inside the costume, it’s never made coherent. Perhaps anything at all would feel extraneous, and that being the case, it’s hard to take the film as anything other than a goof stretched out to 85 minutes.