Willy’s Wonderland

Year: 2021
Production Co: JD Entertainment
Director: Kevin Lewis
Writer: G O Parsons
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Emily Tosta

Nothing like an actor playing to his strengths, and this is another Nic Cage movie with Cage in full Nic Cage mode. He plays a Man With No Name archetype who's so quiet and stoic he doesn't speak a single word of dialogue during the entire film, simply doing what he has to do with brutal intensity and getting on with it.

The thing he has to do is cleaning an abandoned kids' theme restaurant/indoor playground, occasionally pausing his work in order to fight and destroy the creepy animatronic characters that have come to life with murderous intent that he's locked in with.

I'll wait while you reread that if you need...

But yes, even the premise seems to suit Cage perfectly. I have no way of knowing whether the whole movie was dreamed up with him in mind (he's listed as a producer, so maybe), but he couldn't have been better cast.

Cage is a drifter only ever referred to as The Janitor. After he runs over a spike strip across the road outside a small town in his Mustang, he pulls into the local garage for repairs, but the proprietor tells him not only that it'll take longer than expected, but that the price will be steep.

The guy knows of work in town he can do to pay off the debt, to which The Janitor agrees with a single, slow nod of his head, his face impenetrable behind wraparound shades.

So the mechanic introduces him to a slightly shady local businessman who owns Willy's Wonderland, a famed kids' party restaurant that's been shut down for years. He's planning to reopen, so if the drifter agrees to spend the night getting it back into shape he'll pay for the car repairs.

The Janitor is given a signature Willy's Wonderland T shirt, locked inside (the first sign things aren't quite kosher) and left to it as the sun goes down.

No sooner than he does however, the animatronic animals that used to delight kids and families – and which are now bedraggled and terrifying in the low light and their shop-worn condition – start stalking and attacking him.

There might be an entire backstory where The Janitor has some history or knowledge of Willy's Wonderland, so accepting and efficient is he with the fact that evil sentient robots are trying to kill him (and so deadly and skilled in turning the tables on them), but it's never explained. It might simply be that nothing ruffles the guy no matter how horrifying, dangerous or bizarre.

There's also a group of local kids determined to break into Willy's Wonderland and destroy the creatures. Led by rebel Liv (Emily Tosta), they know how many people have gone missing inside its walls and they're determined to reveal and expose whatever conspiracy is going on there, and when they get wind of an unlikely ally inside, they may just do so.

The reveal explaining why the Willy's Wonderland characters have come to life (and their bloodlust) is cute enough but neither it nor the kids' mission is nearly as interesting as Cage's Terminator-like archetype.

Weird character tics like the fizzy energy drinks he chugs every hour when his watch alarm goes off make it seem like there's more to him than we ever see (and only heighten our interest in who he is), but even if that stuff doesn't grab you, there are some effective – though light – scares and some very inventive scenes of gore and mayhem, both human and robot.

It's a slick, funny and tight action comedy that very much follows a credo of less being more.

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