In “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” the legendary actor Nicolas Cage (Nicolas Cage) is hoping to play “the role of a lifetime.” But despite what he thinks is a good meeting — to an outsider, Cage comes off as a little desperate — the director (David Gordon Green) “goes in a different direction.” This disappointment sends Cage to hit the bottle like the Oscar-winning actor’s character, Ben Sanderson, in “Leaving Las Vegas.” In fact, Cage is so discouraged that he calls his agent, Richard Fink (Neil Patrick Harris), and tells him he is going to quit acting. Besides, he needs to repair his relationship with Addy (Lily Mo Sheen), his teenage daughter who has always comes second (or possibly third) to his self-indulgence and his career.
What’s an actor with nouveau shamanistic instincts to do?
But before he retires, Cage has to go to Mallorca and meet with Javi (Pedro Pascal) — a huge fan of the actor — who is paying him a cool $1 million for a personal appearance. Cage, who is $600,000 in debt, needs the money, so he agrees, albeit reluctantly. What he doesn’t know is that CIA operatives Vivian (Tiffany Haddish, underused) and Martin (Ike Barinholtz) suspect Javi has kidnapped the teenage daughter of the Spanish Presidential candidate (who, incidentally, is also a Cage fan) and is hiding her in his lair. Cage is therefore asked to spy on Javi, locate the candidate’s daughter, and possibly kill his host.
What’s an actor with nouveau shamanistic instincts to do?
“The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” runs more mild than wild, with this ridiculous premise and that is a good thing; it doesn’t take itself too seriously, even if Cage does. The film delights in throwing in as many Cage film references as possible. There is the “What do you say we cut the chit-chat, a-hole?” line from “The Rock,” the golden guns props from “Face/Off,” and the healing power of cinema is exemplified by Cage’s 1994 feature, “Guarding Tess.” There are also visual and/or aural cues to “Moonstruck,” the underrated “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin,” “National Treasure,” “Mandy,” “Con Air,” and “The Croods,” among several other films. (Viewers unfamiliar with the actor’s oeuvre will have no trouble keeping up.)
“Nic Cage smooches good.”
Moreover, in the film’s oddest moments, Nic is visited by Nicky (Nicolas Kim Coppola), an alternate version of himself from Cage’s “Wild at Heart” period that echoes the twins Cage played in his Oscar-nominated performance in “Adaptation.” The film’s weirdest bit has Cage kissing himself, but, then again, as Nic Cage boldly declares, “Nic Cage smooches good.”
Nicolas Cage and Pedro Pascal in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” (Katalin Vermes/Lionsgate)
The best part of the film are the scenes featuring Cage and Javi, where the Spaniard gets to live out every movie lover’s fantasy of having a sleepover with the actor they most admire. Pedro Pascal plays Javi like a lovestruck teenager, which is why their discussion of Javi’s favorite films, or an episode where Javi and Cage have an adventure while tripping on LSD, are great fun. The guys even get to have a “chase” scene — cue a “Gone in 60 Seconds” reference — which is a hoot, and there is a terrific bit where they admire and swap each other’s shoes.
Javi has a screenplay he hopes Cage will star in, however, because Cage needs to find the kidnapped teenager, he stalls by suggesting he and Javi write a movie together instead. It will be character-driven adult drama, until Vivian encourages Cage to suggest a kidnapping to understand Javi’s mindset, and their screenplay shifts gears and genres and becomes an action film. (Something for everyone!) Of course, the self-referential “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” shifts gears, too.
But the film gets sillier as it folds in on itself, and when Cage’s long-suffering ex-wife, Olivia (Sharon Horgan, wonderfully droll), and daughter arrive in Mallorca, Addy gets kidnapped, and Cage’s safety is compromised.
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The CIA storyline is the film’s weakest element because the bromance between Cage and Javi is so strong. Had there been some ambiguity about Javi’s criminality, the film might have ratcheted up the tension. At least, the action, when the s**t gets real, is kind of exciting.
There are scenes of him howling or wailing wildly.
The art imitates life imitating art imitating life gimmick here is certainly clever, and Cage does get some real opportunities to shine. He is arguably best doing a physical comedy bit as when he accidentally doses himself while on a CIA mission and has to break into a room through a window from an outside ledge to get the antidote. And there is an amusing scene involving Cage and Javi tripping and trying to scale a wall when they think they are being pursued.
But for superfans hoping Cage will eat a live cockroach (as he did in “Vampire’s Kiss”) or have a manic moment (as he has done in many of his films), “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” doesn’t ask Cage to get too crazy. Yes, there are scenes of him howling or wailing wildly starting with his very first appearance in the film, but this version of Nic Cage — while not as introspective as his recent turn in “Pig” — is certainly more subdued. That is certainly to the film’s credit as Cage is actually quite likeable here; the success of his performance is that he makes viewers want to hang out with him (as Javi does) — even if this kind of self-absorbed, movie-star persona is precisely what irritates his daughter.
“The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” may not quite be a game-changer for Cage — time will tell — but it does poke fun at Cage’s celebrity in a smart, self-deprecating way. It is sure to please fans and non-fans alike.
“The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” opens in theatres Friday, April 22. Watch a trailer for it below, via YouTube.
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