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One of pop culture’s enduring questions is why an acclaimed, Academy Award-winning actor like Nicolas Cage would spend so much of his career squandering his talents in a succession of B-movies that can charitably be described as baroque. Does he need the money to pay for even more exotic possessions than his rare Superman comic books and dinosaur bones? Fortunately, the actor provides as good a reason as any in the production notes for his latest outlandish opus, Willy’s Wonderland, about a man doing battle with a host of animatronic creatures come to life in an abandoned children’s arcade.
“I don’t get opportunities to act with giant stuffed ostriches or alligators or turtles or weasels. So I thought that would be a lot of fun,” the actor explains. Daniel Day-Lewis couldn’t have said it better.
RELEASE DATE Feb 12, 2021
At this point, Cage’s movies don’t have to be reviewed, but rather stamped with official certificates of weirdness. This effort directed by Kevin Lewis certainly qualifies. Cage plays a character identified in the credits as “The Janitor,” whose car breaks down in a remote town containing no working ATMs. The latter proves a particular problem, since the sole garage only takes cash and the repair will cost $1,000. So he can hardly refuse when he’s offered the opportunity to spend the night cleaning up the long-shuttered titular establishment as payment.
The Janitor soon discovers that Willy’s Wonderland, a sort of Chuck E. Cheese from hell, is populated by life-size, human and animal animatronic creatures that demonstrate a distinct desire to kill him while occasionally singing demented ditties in the process. Along the way he also has to deal with a group of young people who have come to burn the place down. They’re led by Liz (Emily Tosta), who has a tragic history with the place. That backstory, explaining that the creatures are inhabited by the spirits of a serial killer and his minions who committed suicide in a satanic ritual, is explained via monologues delivered by Liz and the town’s tough-as-nails female sheriff (veteran character actor Beth Grant, clearly enjoying the opportunity to deliver such lines as “Drop the lizard!”).
The film largely consists of lavishly violent scenes in which the glowering Janitor goes mano-a-mano with the creatures (played by stunt performers in outlandish costumes), always managing to beat them to a pulp. He periodically takes breaks from the mayhem to play vigorous games of pinball (featuring Cage at his most emotive in the film, showcasing the sort of choreographed animalism he displayed in Wild at Heart) and swig cans of energy drinks. Despite being periodically attacked by demonically possessed puppets, the Janitor keeps resuming his cleaning chores, demonstrating the same sort of unruffled professionalism that Cage does in these movies.
Cage also doesn’t speak a word of dialogue throughout the entire picture. But really, why should he? His mere presence signifies everything we need to know, and his intense physicality speaks volumes. Near the end of the film, after the Janitor has (spoiler alert) vanquished all of the creatures, he struts out of Willy’s Wonderland to the strains of “Freebird.” The choice of music seems fitting; here, as in most of the movies he does these days, Cage is playing his greatest hits by request.
Available on VOD
Production companies: JD Entertainment, Landafar Entertainment, Landmark Studio Group, Saturn Films
Distributor: Screen Media Films
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Emily Tosta, Beth Grant, Ric Reitz, Chris Warner, Terayle Hill, David Sheftell, Jessica Graves Davis
Director: Kevin Lewis
Screenwriter: G.O. Parson
Producers: Grant Cramer, Jeremy Daniel Davis, Bryan Lord, Nicolas Cage, Michael Nilon, David Ozer
Executive producers: Tamara Birkemoe, Mark Damon, Scottland Olds Harbert, Seth Needle, Adam Rifkin, Jake Seal
Director of photography: David Newbert
Production designer: Molly Coffee
Editor: Ryan Liebert
Costume designer: Jennifer Schreck
Casting: Gabrielle Almagor, Shannon Makhanian
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