The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Nicolas Cage worked himself up to the point of being a major star, an Oscar winner, and a highly respected actor. Then personal financial troubles hit, leading him to take on a long string of low-budget action and horror films, most of which got their primary release on VOD. The irony is that those pictures afforded him a chance to experiment, leading to some of the most creative – and occasionally most unhinged – performances of his career. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent uses this irony to comedic effect. Its central premise is that Cage, playing himself, ends up in a dangerous situation that resembles the movies he's made in recent years. You won't find a more meta concept than that.

As the story opens, Cage is desperate for a good role. Unable to find one, he tells his agent (Neil Patrick Harris) that he wants to retire from acting. Problems at home make his melancholy worse. Ex-wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan) is upset that he's not a more attentive father to their teenage daughter Addy (Lily Sheen). With no good work on the horizon, Cage reluctantly accepts a $1 million offer to attend the birthday party of a wealthy fan, Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal), on the Spanish island of Mallorca. To say Javi is obsessed would be an understatement. An entire room in his mansion is devoted to Cage memorabilia, and he's written a screenplay he hopes the actor will star in.

As soon as he arrives in the country, he's approached by two FBI agents, Vivian (Tiffany Haddish) and Martin (Ike Barinholtz). They inform him that Javi is a suspected crime lord who may have kidnapped a politician's daughter in an effort to persuade the guy to drop out of an upcoming election. Since Cage is staying at Javi's compound, they want him to poke around for information.

You have to give Nicolas Cage credit for being willing to poke fun at himself. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is filled with references to his filmography. It also spoofs the, shall we say, exuberant acting style he's become known for. One of the funniest bits finds him intermittently talking to a younger version of himself. But it's not just young Nic, it's Nic from Vampire's Kiss, a picture that contains one of his craziest portrayals. As the plot progresses, the danger grows, necessitating him to call upon some of the skills he's used onscreen in the past. That leads to several hilarious sequences, including a bit where he has to remember the stunt driving techniques he used in Gone in 60 Seconds during a car chase.

The heart of the movie, though, is the relationship between Cage and Javi. Despite the possibility that he's a criminal, the actor likes his host. Javi's appreciation for cinema is something he relates to. Watching them develop a “bromance” is great fun, thanks to the kooky chemistry Cage and Pascal work up together. There's a whole subplot about Cage pretending to want to write a script with Javi, simply as an excuse to feed info back to the feds. Even though there's technically an adversarial component to their bond, an undeniable creative spark ignites between them. Both stars give joyous performances that keep the story's intentionally outrageous events grounded in a semblance of humanity.

Having this beloved, enigmatic star find life imitating his often unique art offers many possibilities. For that reason, I can't help wishing that The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent was even crazier than it is. To achieve full Nic Cage nirvana, it needed to be as insane as possible. Several of Cage's movies – Willy's Wonderland, Color Out of Space, Prisoners of the Ghostland – are crazier than the one that's satirizing them. In that sense, director/co-writer Tom Gormican misses some golden opportunities.

Although a little more restrained than it should be, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is still a witty, funny riff on fame and the rollercoaster nature of show business. Beyond that, it's a celebration of Nicolas Cage, an actor who is often brilliant, sporadically too broad, and always fascinating. He gets to do a little of everything here, and it's tour de force work in a movie that reminds us of what a cinematic treasure he is.

out of four

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is rated R for language throughout, some sexual references, drug use and violence. The running time is 1 hour and 47 minutes.