CAST: Nicolas Cage, Pedro Pascal, Sharon Horgan, Lily Sheen, Tiffany Haddish, Ike Barinholtz, Jacob Scipio, Neil Patrick Harris, Alessandra Mastronardi, Paco León, Katrin Vankova
RUNNING TIME: 107 mins
BASICALLY…: Nick Cage (Cage) is offered a large sum of money to appear at the birthday party of a dangerous superfan (Pascal)…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Nicolas Cage is one of those actors who you know can definitely deliver a great performance if he so wanted to, and yet he has mostly become known for the kinds of roles that don’t exactly require a lot of acting. More people remember the over-the-top grimaces and shouty monologues he gives in films like Face/Off and Vampire’s Kiss than his far more nuanced turns in Leaving Las Vegas, Adaptation or last year’s Pig, but rather than succumb to the schlocky, mostly direct-to-video fare that such wild acting choices most often appear in, Cage continues to straddle the line between respected Hollywood A-lister and mockable actor-for-hire.
That line is explored in fine detail during The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, a meta action-comedy that puts its notoriously uncaged (no pun intended) central figure on a pedestal and pays loving tribute to it in fun and often hilarious ways, celebrating everything that we all love about the guy while also being an enjoyable movie on its own.
Cage plays a fictionalised version of himself, who here is a struggling actor who has been marred by years of financial difficulties and failures as both a husband to Olivia (Sharon Horgna) and a father to his teen daughter Addy (Lily Sheen). Considering retirement from acting, Cage then receives an offer from his agent (Neil Patrick Harris): for $1 million, he travels to Mallorca, Spain to appear at the birthday party of a wealthy superfan named Javi (Pedro Pascal). Although at first he begrudgingly accepts, he soon forms a strong friendship with Javi – but that may be short-lived, as CIA agents Vivian (Tiffany Haddish) and Martin (Ike Barinholtz) suspect Javi, a known international arms dealer, of kidnapping the daughter (Katrin Vankova) of a local political candidate, and recruit a reluctant Cage to spy on his new friend and help bring him to justice.
Given that this is a movie filled with references to Cage’s vast filmography, with physical and verbal Easter eggs left and right for the likes of Con Air, National Treasure, Mandy and even The Wicker Man, it’s honestly astonishing that The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent does not completely fall into the trap of just being a collection of references instead of an actual film. Director and co-writer Tom Gormican clearly admires Cage as much as the next person, and has – with co-writer Kevin Etten – written a fun script that neatly revolves around the movie star and some of his most famous roles, but is restrained enough to not let any of that overcast the more fundamental storytelling rules he and Etten must also abide by. Case in point, throughout the movie Cage converses with an imaginary de-aged version of himself (CG’d to make him look like he just got off the set for Wild at Heart), which in a less-smart script would have taken up a good portion of the movie, but Gormican wisely limits such interactions to short, simple explorations of the ego-centric actor’s psyche, before then continuing on with the main plot. Gormican thus ensures that his film stays on track and focused, whereas someone with less restraint would have endlessly, and tiresomely, used the motif as the fifteenth instance of hero worship.
It is good that The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent does not lean too heavily on Cage nostalgia (although that is certainly a major hook for the movie), because the real crux of the story comes from the main friendship between this washed-up actor and this starry-eyed superfan. This is honestly just as much Pedro Pascal’s movie as it is Nicolas Cage’s, and both actors have great chemistry that’s not only laugh-out-loud funny – a sequence involving LSD is particularly hilarious, and shows both Cage and Pascal’s natural talent for slapstick comedy – but also genuinely sweet, as you see them bonding over everything from the creative process of writing a screenplay (Pascal’s Javi has written one for Cage which the actor offers to help develop, as a means to keep spying on the suspected criminal) to, in one of the funniest and most endearing running jokes in the movie, their mutual love for Paddington 2. Both actors, and their respective characters, are immensely likeable together, giving the film a surprising amount of heart even with scenes where Cage offers to buy a shoddy waxwork figure of himself from Face/Off (with duelling golden guns to match) for $20,000.
It goes without saying that Nicolas Cage does great work here, self-aware to a fault but also actively putting on a performance that is about as lively and entertaining as you’d expect from him by this point. It’s certainly one of his (intentionally) funniest live-action roles in some time, and along with a scene-stealing Pedro Pascal he easily carries the movie, even when things go a bit off-the-rails for its third act, when things devolve slightly into more generic action-comedy movie fare. There are plenty of laughs to be had, but crucially not all of them rely on past knowledge of Cage movies, which does make The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent a notch above other, similar meta comedies that play on certain movie star personas, such as The Last Action Hero or My Name Is Bruce where past knowledge of actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Campbell were vital to understanding their respective humour.
Overall, it is a fun exercise of taking a well-known and meme-friendly actor like Nicolas Cage, and crafting a genuinely funny and entertaining movie around them without succumbing too hard to hero worship. Cage, for all his wild and crazy outbursts, is someone who shouldn’t be resigned to being just the guy everyone likes to laugh at/with on the Internet, but The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent shows that he’s certainly in on the joke, but still has enough self-respect to also be more than just the punchline.
SO, TO SUM UP…
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a wild and hugely entertaining meta action-comedy, one where most of the humour and soul thankfully does not come from past knowledge or experience of Nicolas Cage’s filmography, but from the genuinely sweet and likeable chemistry between the actor and Pedro Pascal which carries the movie wholeheartedly, even during a more generic third act that threatens to go too far off-the-rails.