Friday 12 February 2021

Willy's Wonderland (USA 2021: Dir Kevin Lewis)

These days if you're going to watch a movie with Nicolas Cage in the cast, a lot of your enjoyment of that film is going to be based on the extent to which you like Mr C, so front and centred is he in the roles he lands these days. In Willy's Wonderland the actor originally born Nicolas Kim Coppola is 'The Janitor', an almost dialogue free part which allows him to regularly kick arse and chug beer, unhampered by the kind of dialogue which can be his undoing.

Cage is a a drifter, who swings into the little town of Hayesville in his flash car; or more accurately comes a cropper when his tyres are blown out by a stinger laid across the road. The local garage can fix the vehicle but it'll cost him $1000, bills only; no cards, no internet in Hayesville. Cash strapped Cage is offered a deal; if he'll stay overnight and help clean up 'Willy's Wonderland' all debts will be considered settled and he can drive away on four brand new radials. Hey, he even gets a company T shirt.

'Willy's Wonderland' is a shut down restaurant with animatronic animals to delight the kids. Only it doesn't have such a great reputation in town, evidenced by the graffiti on the walls which reads 'Gateway to Hell' and 'Kid Killers'; it's also maybe why perky teen Liv (Emily Tosta) is trying to set fire to it; that is until she's escorted off the premises and taken home to her foster mother, who just happens to be the town sheriff (Beth Grant). 

So Cage, now living up to his 'Janitor' title, settles into the 'Wonderland' building and begins the cleanup. It seems that the operation was shut down following a couple of lawsuits being served on the owner, Tex Macadoo (Ric Reitz) because of injuries to kids by the automatons. Cage quickly finds out that the machines do indeed have a life of their own; one of them, Ozzie the Ostrich, attacks our hero but ends up with its head bashed in and its mechanical guts pulled out, courtesy of the 'Janitor.'

Liv's friends release her from incarceration and accompany her back to the restaurant so she can finish the incendiary deed. Unsurprisingly they fall through the roof and end up, via the soft play area, in the heat of the action. It's just them and the Janitor versus a horde of marauding life sized mechanical animals in a fight to the death.

There is of course a reason behind the rampaging auto-beasts, involving serial killers and black magic, but we don't really care about that; we're here to see Nicolas Cage, with nary a sneer in sight, silently take out the automatons, fuelled only by his bare hands and craft beer. The fact that he's an effective kick arse machine, while the ineffective young people - with the exception of Liv - become victims of Willy the Weasel, Tito Turtle and the rest is interesting. Early on in the movie, where the origin of the mechanical menagerie is discussed, Liv describes the original owner of 'Willy's Wonderland' as "one of the last century's most sick and sadistic serial killers." Wait a minute, last century? Ouch; way to make a viewer feel old. And yet it's the old fart (Cage) who's the hero of the day! Go figure.

Anyhow, as mentioned this is Cage's movie. A silent hero who also finds time to buff his nails and both resurrect and get in some serious leisure time on a pinball machine, he's way less annoying than some of his other recent cinematic incarnations (Red Miller, I'm looking at you). This bizarre little movie plunders, in no particular order, Meet the Feebles (1989) and a couple of recent reboots from 2019, Lars Klevberg's Child's Play and The Banana Splits Movie by Daniella Esterhazy. As those influences suggest it's a film best seen with a crowd and while it's a lot of fun, it misses opportunities to send up commercialism and/or or small town politics which would give it a bit of an extra dimension. Great soundtrack by Émoi though with a really earwormy theme.

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