There are a handful of performers whose personas and presence could warrant a meta-like feature-film approach about them. John Malkovich already has one, and Christopher Walken and Willem Dafoe seem overdue for theirs, but if you were making a list there’s little doubt that Nicolas Cage would land a spot at or near the top. Cage is an acclaimed actor capable of stellar dramatic performances from Leaving Las Vegas (1995) to Pig (2021), but he’s also a big personality who’s birthed more than a few memes over the years. Who better to take the lead in a meta-comedy about Nicolas Cage called The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent?
Nick Cage (Cage) has had a busy career, but he’s looking for a real comeback film — not that he went anywhere — to get him out of the direct-to-video rut. After a meeting with David Gordon Green (playing himself) goes bust, Nick takes an easy paycheck gig from a millionaire requesting his presence at his birthday party in Spain. Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal) is a fan, through and through, and the pair soon hit it off talking movies, life, and more. They even start brainstorming a script idea, but the new friendship hits a bump in the road when CIA agents (Tiffany Haddish, Ike Barinholtz) tell Nick that his new bff is actually a brutal drug lord who’s kidnapped a teenager.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is the kind of love letter to Nicolas Cage that could only be built on the back of a wildly eclectic career filled with ups and downs. Cage found dramatic/comedic success in the 90s and 90s before landing unexpectedly at the forefront of the action genre with the triple hit of The Rock (1996), Con Air (1997), and Face/Off (1997). Other hits followed into the new millenium, but successful films like National Treasure (2004) and Kick-Ass (2010) soon became outliers as his career slid him into more and more smaller movies. The last of his live-action films to pass $40 million at the box-office was 2011’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance — and he’s made a whopping thirty-five live-action features since then.
While some actors take this slow descent to become has-beens, Cage has stayed in the conversation even when his new movies have quickly faded from memory. Part of his secret is a relatively steady stream of “full Cage” moments from those films that hit social media like a bullet, but the bigger truth at play here is that the guy just does the work — every, single, time. Small role, big role, small film, big film, Cage is giving it his all as an actor.
It’s that kernel of the real Cage that yields The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent‘s emotional throughline. Nick simply works too much and is more focused on career goals than the relationships in his life, and it’s something that Javi picks up in through their conversations. It, of course, leads to trouble when Nick’s new friend surprises him by bringing his ex-wife (Sharon Horgan) and daughter (Lily Mo Sheen) to Spain for some impromptu therapy, but even as the expected hijinks fall into place — violence erupts within Javi’s own camp, the CIA digs their claws in tighter, and neither Nick nor Javi can resist the pull of their developing bromance — the end result is still a light, entertaining good time.
The pair formulate their script idea around their own circumstance of two new friends enjoying nature and conversations on life, and when Nick suggests they add a kidnapping to spice things up Javi counters that it would only lessen the experience. As if by design, writer/director Tom Gormican‘s The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent follows that same path. Its highs are concentrated mostly in the first two-thirds as Cage pokes gentle fun at himself and the film tosses out nods to his actual filmography — there are direct references to twelve of his movies by my count, with the best targeting Guarding Tess (1994) and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (2001) — with the most overtly fantastical and meta beats seeing the arrival of Nicky (also Cage, but digitally de-aged into an uncanny valley-like representation of him in his Wild at Heart days). Like the devil on his shoulder, Nicky is the one pushing Nick towards fame with every breath he takes.
Nicky’s counterpoint, though, turns out to be Javi. The friendship between the drug lord and the actor finds genuine sweetness in their banter, conversations, and shared acid trip, and a hugely entertaining comedy could easily be made from the pairing. Javi is a bundle of soft sincerity, nervous in the face of his idol but ecstatic to discover Nick is just a good guy who loves movies, and Pascal sells the gentle soul while still keeping the character a real delight.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent keeps its action beats to a minimum with the third act devolving into a handful of set-pieces built on gun fights and car chases. They’re mostly forgettable exchanges aside from the main characters at their center, and it’s their goofy friendship that powers viewers through to the end credits. This is ultimately a film designed by and for Cage fans — a lightweight comedy with gunplay that puts Cage front and center — but if there’s any justice it will earn the man a few more along the way. Just don’t call it a comeback.
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