Watching the new action comedy The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, in which Nicolas Cage plays a fictionalized version of, well, Nicolas Cage, I kept thinking that if director Tom Gormican didn’t get him to agree to do this film, which depends on audience recognition of a genuine action star, he could have easily gone to Mel Gibson or Bruce Willis. They would have been fine fulfilling the amusing premise, but Cage, as he usually does, goes all out, even over the top at times, and gives this the kind of sharp edge only he can. It also helps, since this is basically a comedy, that Cage’s manic timing (as in Honeymoon in Vegas, for one) really works in making the best lines in Gormican and co-writer Kevin Etten’s script work, especially the inside industry jokes peppered throughout.
This of course is an exaggeration of Cage’s life and career, based primarily on the public and media perception of the Oscar-winning star who, in recent years, ran into serious trouble with back taxes and often took some lesser movies for the money, leading to a string of flops. His most recent film, Pig, has put him on top again, with much acclaim and awards buzz (he is nominated for Best Actor at the Critics Choice Awards), so that is definitely not the case for this version of Cage. He occasionally shares the screen with his de-aged self, “Nicky” (billed as Nicolas Kim Coppola), a circa-early-’90s version (think Wild at Heart) from his imagination who keeps giving him pep talks on finding the movie star he used to be at that age. “You have to be more strategic, more of a movie star,” Nicky tells him. It’s very funny, and expertly pulled off, but fortunately Gormican keeps it to a minimum or it would get old fast.
Plot-wise the film opens with a movie-within-a-movie to reveal a foreign couple watching an old Cage film and commenting on its star, “Nicolas Cage is f*cking incredible,” the subtitles read. Then we get a series of vignettes in his Hollywood life as he meets with an A-list director in order to land the kind of dream role no one wants him for anymore, even to the point of showing the guy he can do a great Boston accent — and does so right there in very Cage-ian fashion. He meets with a therapist to discuss his woes, has a disastrous time trying to interest his daughter Addy (Lily Sheen) in watching the B&W silent classic, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari with him, to no avail. “She thinks Humphrey Bogart is a porn star,” he sadly tells ex-wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan). There is also the steam-bath meeting with his agent Richard Fink (Neil Patrick Harris), who urges him to get his act together, pointing out he is $600,000 in debt from all the divorces etc. and needs to accept an offer from a superfan millionaire to attend his birthday in Mallorca, Spain, for which he will be paid a cool million.
And so off he goes on a private plane sent for the occasion that even shows his old films on board (he turns them off). Arriving at the picaresque town, he is spotted by a couple of CIA operatives who are out to get a crime boss and arms dealer suspected of kidnapping the president’s daughter. Seeing Cage arrive in the guy’s plane allows Vivian (Tiffany Haddish) to tell her colleague (Ike Barinholtz, in a largely thankless role) that she has an idea to turn this action star into a real-life action star by essentially going undercover for them to help nail their suspect Javi Gutierrez (The Mandalorian’s Pedro Pascal). He also happens to be an aspiring screenwriter who wants to team with Cage for his buddy movie idea. Complimenting Cage on her favorite of his movies, The Croods 2, Vivian begins to hatch her plot.
Meanwhile, Cage finds himself increasingly drawn into this crime syndicate, all the while beginning to bond with Javi. Things start careening out of control when suddenly his ex and daughter are flown under false pretenses to Mallorca, and Javi’s cousin Lucas (Paco Leon) enters the picture with his own agenda. There is lots of action, and plenty of references to Cage’s own bona fides as an action star. The best scene has Javi, with clear affection for movie-star Cage, showing off his museum of artifacts he has collected including a garish satin pillow with his likeness and a not-so-great wax figure of him brandishing the golden guns from Face/Off. At a certain point, Javi simply says, “I guess it’s time to figure out how this thing ends.” And indeed it is.
You have to give Cage credit for going all in on this and, in the process, actually following up a real triumph in Pig, now with another movie that likely will land with audiences. It is definitely out there, and certainly outwears its welcome at times with just too much frenetic energy, but there are a number of LOL moments to keep it all humming. Pascal is a good partner in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, while the rest of the cast — which also includes Alessandra Mastronardi and Jacob Scipio — make the most with fairly one-dimensional roles.
This is first and foremost the Nicolas Cage show, and as both the past and present star that he is, Cage is perfect in the role of his life – literally. He is also a producer along with Mike Nilon, Kristin Burk and Kevin Turen.
The film had its world premiere at SXSW tonight and is slated for release by Lionsgate on April 22.
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