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Review: Horror-comedy ‘Willy’s Wonderland’ isn’t nearly wacky enough to deserve Nicolas Cage

Nicolas Cage in "Willy's Wonderland."
(Screen Media)

With the way-out horror-comedy “Willy’s Wonderland,” Nicolas Cage continues his recent trend of lending his name and his gonzo acting to genre filmmakers willing to get a little weird. Cage’s ideals are admirable. His taste is a little suspect.

Directed by Kevin Lewis and written by G.O. Parsons (whose screenplay Cage reportedly found on “the Blood List” of well-regarded un-produced horror scripts), “Willy’s Wonderland” has been blatantly engineered to be a cult movie. But it never becomes as offbeat as it needs to be. The film has a nutty premise and a game star, but it too quickly runs out of fresh ideas.

Cage plays a taciturn, no-named stranger, who gets stuck in a small Nevada town when the locals sneakily wreck his car. To cover the costs of a steep repair bill, he takes a job cleaning an abandoned family pizza place. While polishing up the old arcade games — and playing lots of pinball — “the Janitor” learns that the Chuck E. Cheese-like restaurant’s animatronic entertainers have been possessed by murderous demons.

At its simplest — and best — “Willy’s Wonderland” is about a mysterious tough guy fighting off goofy-looking robots. So long as it’s just Cage silently clobbering mechanical humanoid bears and birds, this picture is amusingly absurd. But Lewis and Parson hedge their bets, adding a bunch of nondescript troublemaking youngsters who set out to trash the restaurant, along with a shady cop who knows this place’s dark secret.

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Building out the world of “Willy’s Wonderland” diffuses a lot of its originality. Too much of this movie is just a relatively routine “kids in a haunted building” thriller, notable only for how silly-looking the antagonists are. And that’s a shame, because while the blander characters are being tormented by automatons, a way more interesting live-action Nicolas Cage cartoon is happening nearby.

'Willy’s Wonderland'

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes

Playing: Available on VOD


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