Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “Willy’s Wonderland.”
The Movie: “Willy’s Wonderland”
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Emily Tosta, Beth Grant
Director: Kevin Lewis
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A quiet drifter is tricked into a janitorial job at the now condemned Willy’s Wonderland. The mundane tasks suddenly become an all-out fight for survival against wave after wave of demonic animatronics. Fists fly, kicks land, titans clash — and only one side will make it out alive.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 62 percent
Froemming: Well, Halloween Month comes to an end — a little late, but whatever, we are busy people. And I decided to cap it off with Nic. (REDACTED). Cage.
Last time we saw a Cage movie, he was a zany character in a very serious world. Well, to quote Michael Scott:
Yes, we get Nic Cage being painfully serious (he has zero lines in this) in a haunted Hydrox Chuck E. Cheese. A movie that reminded me of my youth when me and my friends would have birthday parties in these caverns of nightmare fuel that were also stocked with the newest arcade games to blow money on while hopped up on soda and greasy pizza.
The 1980s-90s were a (REDACTED) up time, people.
Anyway, my watch is beeping to let me know it is time to down a delicious Punch Cola and take a quick break, so Brown why don’t you give us your first thoughts?
Brown: What the (REDACTED) did I just watch?
I didn’t have high hopes for “Willy’s Wonderland” when you showed me the trailer. Frankly, I thought it would be a ripoff of the “Five Nights at Freddy’s” video game series.
Then I watched it. And it is ABSOLUTELY a ripoff of “Five Nights at Freddy’s.”
Like you, I’m plenty familiar with the source material as a kid of the ‘90s going to Chuck E. Cheese or Circus Circus. And yes, those anthropomorphic animals are terrifying.
That is, until you get them to sing “London Bridge” by Fergie. Then they’re true monsters.
Froemming, get us started while I scrub a pinball machine.
Froemming: We open with a couple being terrorized by something while wearing Willy’s Wonderland T-shirts that hipsters would wear ironically, because irony is their only personality trait. We see them being chased and we also see TV spots that look like they were filmed on HD cameras, which did not exist when those spots were supposed to have been made. We also see a little girl hiding, which is the only plot element we see in this that has any payoff or explanation (I am looking at you, scenes of the Janitor’s breaks with the soda). Then a woman dies and roll the unheard of production companies that birthed this strange film into existence.
Now we cut to Cage driving some nice looking car, which gets its tires blown out by spikes. Which is a very suspicious way to have your tires flattened.
Brown: Considering how nice the car was that Cage drove, I thought of this as a continuation of the remake of “Gone in 60 Seconds” that Cage was in. Frankly, that’s a future JOE-DOWN review.
As our Cage With No Name is picked up by a tow truck, we see a teenage girl getting hauled away by a cop. And Cage leers at this girl because this movie had to make me feel MORE uncomfortable.
Turns out, this cop is the sheriff of our small town of Hayesville. The teen is named Liv, and the sheriff is her caretaker/mom.
And like any self-respecting parent dealing with a troublesome kid, the sheriff *check notes* handcuffs Liv to a pipe in their trailer home.
Liv is a burlap sack away from the sheriff having to take parenting classes like Marge and Homer Simpson.
Froemming: Well, if you would have been Dwight’s date to Michael’s infamous Dinner Party, you would also be a little messed up.
Now, the Cage With No Name gets his car looked at by the town mechanic, who says this place does not have internet and everything is cash-only, which makes zero sense. What with phones with data plans and all, this is just a weird reason for CWNN to work off his debt, which $1,000 for four tires seems pretty pricey.
Brown: For high-performance tires, $250 per tire sounds about right.
Froemming: Sounds like your living this kind of life:
Brown: Still, you’re right. The premise is stupid. Why not drive CWNN to a bank if credit cards aren’t an option? Charge him another $10 for doing it; it didn’t seem like CWNN was hesitant about paying that for the tires when he reached for his wallet.
But since apparently CWNN drove into a place with the technology of an Amish village, he and the mechanic broke a deal.
And in comes a man Tex (which looks like you’d imagine a man named Tex does) with a job: spend the night cleaning up the town’s vacated Willy’s Wonderland restaurant/arcade and Tex will pay for the repairs.
Froemming: I would absolutely clean a crappy theme restaurant all night for $1,000. That seems like an incredible deal to me.
Brown: I would, too. Especially since Tex doesn’t sound like he cares how clean the place gets. I hate cleaning so I’ll scrub some tables and spend the rest of the time playing the X-Men arcade game or something.
So, CWNN accepts (without saying a word) and heads into the restaurant with nothing but a *checks notes* sack of soda pops?
… Was the pops ever explained? I thought that A. it was his video game-like power-up, like a star in Mario, or B. He was a diabetic.
Froemming: One, it is soda, and two, no it was not explained. But you went to college with me, and you saw me with my sack of sodas everyday, so I get his deal.
Brown: Look, I get it. He spends a good chunk of the movie chugging pop and playing pinball like he was a 16-year-old Joe… or a 35-year-old Joe if I owned a pinball machine. Just because he’s like me doesn’t mean I enjoyed it; my life is boring. I don’t need to be reminded of that with a boring movie.
Froemming: Meanwhile, Liv’s gaggle of good-time buddies bust her out of her trailer, where she is supposed to shit in a bucket. Her cop mom, I think she is just as evil as the robots we see later, because that is vile. That is Buffalo Bill territory.
Anyway, these friends will be our cannon fodder for later in the movie, so I didn’t bother remembering their names. Plus, they were as charismatic and likeable as those idiots who went to the Fyre Festival.
Brown: I wrote in my notes that the teenagers in this movie were if the “Stranger Things” kids grew up to be millennial assholes.
Froemming: As a millennial asshole, I agree 100 percent.
Their plan is to go to Willy’s and burn it to the ground like Bill Brasky did after he once built a bar around him.
Brown: ALWAYS LEAVE THINGS THE WAY YOU FOUND ‘EM!
Froemming: But, Liv wants to get CWNN out of there, because otherwise that would mean they would be murdering him in a truly horrific fashion. And, you know, the jail time after for that.
So we now get to CWNN inside this place, cleaning non-stop and taking his breaks. A timer lets him know when to do this. There is no real explanation about this, there is no payoff for it minus one mildly amusing moment he leaves a fight to play pinball. This film should just have been called “Aimless Plotpoints: The Movie.”
He is not alone. He has the eight creepy robots locked in here with him: Willy Weasel, Arty Alligator, Cammy Chameleon, Ozzie Ostrich, Knighty Knight, Tito Turtle, Gus Gorilla and Siren Sara all glaring at him with their Terminator eyes. If the Terminator had come from the future and dressed like a furry.
Brown: Frankly, when CWNN destroys the first animatronic — Ozzie, I think — he does it with the lack of emotion and the ferocity that I’d expect from a Terminator. This, obviously was going through my head because the JOE-DOWN always finds a way to cram the “Terminator 2” theme into a review.
Seriously, the bird tells CWNN that he wants to eat his face and CWNN rips out its goddamn spine like a Sub-Zero fatality.
… And then he goes into the break room to clean up a pinball machine and drink can-upon-can of soda.
… What the (REDACTED) is this character?
Froemming: So, when he went all MK on Ozzie, I figured he knew what these things were and this was all part of his plan to go there and kill these things one by one. Like they killed his kid or something in the past. And the breaks were him savoring his bloodlust.
Nope. He is just some random guy who knows exactly how to kill these things.
Brown: Yep… CWNN is pretty much a psychopath.
Froemming: And after his little break, he goes to do Charlie Work: Cleaning the bathroom and I imagine killing the rats.
And he gets this crapper spotless. He is a cleaning machine here. And then he gets into another rumble, this time with Gus Gorilla. Who does a weird ninja flip kick on him from a toilet stall. This fight I was laughing my ass off as Cage is just beating the living hell out of a guy in a gorilla costume, and then shockingly pulls an “American History X” moment on the thing, by urinal stomping its head.
Brown: At this point, I thought the reason the animatronics were acting like this was because someone set the things to evil.
But no, instead of flipping a switch, CWNN just curb stomps them.
Meanwhile, Liv and the rest of the actual Losers’ Club are sorting out their next move. Ultimately, Liv decides to get into Willie’s Wonderland through the air ducts like she’s John McClane. However, she almost ends up like Dallas in “Alien” when Arty Alligator sneaks up on her and attacks. You know, the cumbersome, bulky alligator robot sneaks up on someone in a tight air vent…
This movie was so goddamn stupid.
Froemming: I thought at first it was John Bender up in the vent with her.
Well, she falls into a weird room where she encounters Siren Sara, who has the body of a human and the robot head, which made me very confused. She gets away, I don’t remember how, and runs into CWNN, who doesn’t seem concerned about any of this insane stuff going on. He just wants to clean and drink soda and kill robot furries.
Her friends, well we need to get them inside the building so they can get murdered, so they climb to the roof and — fall through it? Um, what is that roof made of, papier-mâché? One bad rainfall and that building is ruined.
Well, they are in the building now, and we get the exposition dump on how this place became haunted, which comes along in the most non-organic way I have ever seen. They just start telling this poor guy, who just wants to clean and slam soda, a tale that somehow makes less sense than everything else in this movie.
See, Willy’s Wonderland was started by a serial killer. Who hired other serial killers to be the staff. Because if there is one thing serial killers are known for, it is being pretty open to others that they murder people to feel like Gods for a few minutes.
Brown: Question: what state is parolling enough serial killers to staff a children’s restaurant?
Froemming: What state gives a paroled serial killer a permit to start a children’s themed restaurant? And not be tracking other killers being hired there?
Not only that, but they start killing customers, which I imagine was fun — and cathartic — for old Chuck E. Cheese employees to see. So, people are going missing like crazy and it takes the cops a while to realize “hey, remember all those serial killers paroled? Maybe they have something to do with all these missing people.”
Well, the fuzz finally catches on, and the owner and his staff kill themselves in a satanic ritual that puts their souls into the bodies of comically inefficient robots. Much like Charles Lee Ray in “Child’s Play.” Say what you will about these robots, at least they are not a puntable-sized doll that nobody would be afraid of.
To add to the stupidity, the town cops make a deal with the now demonic robots: Do not kill the townsfolk and they will feed them strangers driving through.
This movie assumes the FBI does not exist, nor that anyone with a brain would realize and pinpoint all these weird vanishings to their shithole town.
Brown: Yep. We have now reviewed TWO Nic Cage movies where he is made to be a sacrificial lamb. Thank goodness that there were no bee animatronics.
And the more this goes on, yeah… this is “Wicker Man” with robots. Just as baffling. And just as dumb.
Liv has a particular connection to the grizzly murders at Willy’s Wonderland. We find out that she was a survivor of one of the murder sprees (where she was rescued by the sheriff).
And what does CWNN do when he finds all this out? He walks away, without a sound, to go play pinball.
Froemming: Brown, when it is breaktime, I do the same thing. I don’t answer my phone, I do not respond to emails. My time off the clock is my time.
Brown: Yeah, but killer robots are a bit more dire to your well-being than the arts and entertainment section of your local Liberal rag.
Froemming: Obviously I need Billy Joel to explain this to you:
Brown: Anyways, after being reminded of how harrowing the history of Willy’s Wonderland is, what do the Losers’ Club do? They *checks notes* split up and get killed off one by one.
DID NO ONE WATCH “SCREAM” HERE?!
Hell, this movie kills off three horror movie tropes at once when two of them go have sex in the “Super Happy Fun Room.” In one fell swoop, the movie A. kills the black guy first, B. kills while teens are having sex, and C. kills the slutty girl.
Points for efficiency, I guess?
Froemming: Who gets horny in a murder den? They are being hunted down by killer robots and they decide to bump uglies?
Brown: Look, I don’t like to kink shame… but I’m kink shaming this one. Put your dick away when you see a robotic alligator with bloodlust in its dead eyes.
Froemming: Well, once CWNN is off his pinball break, he breaks into the smush room, and rips the alligator’s jaws apart. He also kills Knighty Knight, which looks like a video game character that I can’t pinpoint to at the moment.
There is this side story of the cop mom and this other cop working OT. It is stupid and I only bring it up because this dumbass cop arrests Liv for breaking and entering. Only to be killed by a character almost as racist as something from the mind of Jeff Dunham: Tito Turtle.
Brown: Yep, a racist turtle on par with Speedy Gonzalez that, if we’re to believe the dialogue, has balls that Liv hits at one point?
Seriously, what the (REDACTED) did I watch?
We should also mention that at one point, CWNN’s watch goes off while staring down one of these deadly robots with Liv. So he hands her a knife so he can go drink another pop and be the pinball wizard.
Froemming: I am starting to suspect you hate when workers go on break.
Brown: Unions are ruining this country, Froemming. Same with child-labor laws.
Also, this feels like a weekend, and CWNN is basically spending his weekend like Fry from “Futurama.” All his character needs is an all-Rush mixtape.
Froemming: Well, while Liv is off fighting Tito Turtle, her mom ties up CWNN as a sacrifice to Willy. While tied up, he crushes a few robot heads with his thighs, which is not a sentence I ever imagined writing about a Nic Cage film.
Brown: Yep. CWNN kills people the same way Xenia Onatopp kills people in “Goldeneye.”
Froemming: And when the mom catches wind, she wants to just straight up give CWNN to Willy. But Willy cuts her in half for reasons? Now we have the face-off between CWNN and Willy.
Brown: Yep. A weasel we just saw slice a person in half with a swipe of his paw gets killed by CWNN via *checks notes* a mop handle and a sack of soda cans.
What the (REDACTED) did I just watch?
Froemming: Sacks of sodas have more than one purpose, Brown.
Anyway, Willy is now dead and it is morning. Tex and the mechanic are outside with CWNN’s car, which I was baffled by. Why fix the car if you are betting on the guy dying? And if it is for Tex’s collection, WHY BRING IT HERE?
Brown: A movie with animatronic racist turtles isn’t going to answer that question, Froemming.
I laughed my ass off when, after the killing is done, CWNN walks out of Willy’s Wonderland accompanied by Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird.”
This movie had a $5 million budget. After Nic Cage’s pay and the rights to “Free Bird,” this movie had, what, $30 left?
So Cage gets the keys to his car. Then Liv decides that she’ll hop in CWNN’s car and go anywhere with the man who avenged her parents’ death.
… Movie, I have a big problem with a grown man traveling with a teenager he is not related to crossing state lines. Who is he, Ted Nugent?
Froemming: Do you think Cage agreed to do this movie only if he didn’t have to have any lines to remember?
Brown: At this point, I think he got paid in cans of Kirkland soda because that $5 million sure as shit wasn’t used for anything we saw on screen.
And just because, we see Siren Sara still alive as she kills off Tex and the mechanic. AND, for good measure, we see CWNN run down the Mexican stereotype turtle with his car that HE JUST HAD FIXED!
Froemming: Look, let’s end this on a good note:
Now let’s go to recommendations!
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Yeah, it is a weird film and not a lot of heavy thinking involved.
Here is what’s coming up for the next JOE-DOWN: