"The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" reviewed by Nathan Weinbender
Nick Cage is at an impasse. He’s not landing the roles he wants. He’s drinking too much. He’s drifting further from his teenage daughter and his ex-wife. He still loves acting, but he’s considering throwing in the towel for good. And then his agent presents an easy way to make $1 million — he’s going to be whisked off to a private island in the Mediterranean where he’ll hobnob with the guests of a rich playboy’s birthday party.
This is the set-up for a comic hall of mirrors called The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, which functions both as a send-up of Nicolas Cage’s over-the-top persona and as a loving, carefully curated shrine to it. In fact, the movie features a literal Nic Cage shrine filled with recognizable props, from his golden guns in Face/Off to the stuffed pink bunny in Con Air. You may have forgotten that the movie Guarding Tess exists, but this movie not only remembers it but includes a heartfelt monologue about it. It may be a self-referential machine running on its own fumes, but it’s a funny one.
The Oscar-winning actor plays a version of himself that I think is only slightly fictionalized; the most noticeable difference is that movie version spells his first name with a “K.” As Unbearable Weight opens, Nick reluctantly accepts the offer to hobnob with other rich weirdos, all while being nagged by his conscience, which takes the form of the psychotic outlaw Cage played in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart.
The mystery man hosting Nick Cage is named Javi (Pedro Pascal), who reveals that he’s a Cage superfan. He’s seen all the movies, he knows all the trivia; he’s even watched the making-of featurettes on the National Treasure DVD. Rather than being alarmed (as any normal person would), Nick is smitten with his number 1 fan, and the two soon develop a puppy-dog bromance, dropping acid and frolicking through a nearby village and sharing the life-affirming delight that is Paddington 2.
All of this is fun in a loose, goofy way, but I’ve so far neglected to mention the least compelling part of the film, which involves a couple FBI agents (Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz) tracking Javi’s shady dealings and enlist Nick to spy for them. This plotline devolves into the sort of espionage and action material that would be right at home in one of Cage’s more middling thrillers, which might be part of the joke, but it’s perfunctory and not particularly exciting.
Not that what precedes it is exactly groundbreaking: A macho, larger-than-life movie star deconstructing his own image isn’t an entirely new idea: Schwarzenegger did it in Last Action Hero, as did Jean-Claude Van Damme in JCVD. Even the notion of a film writing itself as it goes along recalls Adaptation, which also featured dual Nic Cages.
But at least those earlier scenes with Cage and Pascal merely hanging out have an eccentric energy and a disarming sweetness that I had forgotten Cage was capable of. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent might inspire you to host your own Nicolas Cage film marathon. Might I recommend Valley Girl, or Bad Lieutenant Port of Call New Orleans? And don’t forget Face/Off.
Nathan Weinbender is a co-host of Spokane Public Radio’s “Movies 101” heard Friday evenings at 6:30 here on KPBX.