A hip celebration of bad Nicolas Cage movies disappears up itself
‘The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent’ is one of the worst titles you could possibly give a movie, even a meta-movie that parodies and also celebrates the Hollywood career of Nicolas Cage. I suppose ‘Being Nicolas Cage’ would have been a worse title, but only by a shred. At least that title, though, might have brought in some viewers. By naming a movie ‘The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,’ you’re automatically limiting the audience for what is, essentially, a light, silly action comedy. But maybe no one involved with this movie actually cares.
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Late last night, ‘The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent’ premiered at South By Southwest in Austin, and the SXSW fan culture was out in full force, hooting and shouting and screaming with laughter and generally worshipping Nicolas Cage, who sat in the middle of the auditorium wearing a plaid suit. If you love Nicolas Cage, this movie is the Bellagio buffet of Nicolas Cage movies.
THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Tom Gormican
Written by: Tom Gormican, Kevin Etten
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Pedro Pascal, Sharon Horgan, Tiffany Haddish, Neil Patrick Harris
Running time: 93 mins
Cage plays himself, or some version of himself, who is semi-down-on-his-luck in Hollywood, six figures in debt to an expensive Sunset Boulevard hotel and nearly estranged from his teenage daughter and his ex-wife, played by Sharon Horgan of ‘Catastrophe’. Cage’s agent, played by Neil Patrick Harris in a funny almost-cameo, arranges for him to travel to Mallorca, Spain, where a superfan is offering him a million dollars to appear at a birthday party. Pedro Pascal, the Mandalorian himself, plays the superfan. This fan also happens to be involved in an international crime cartel that recently kidnapped the daughter of a Catalonian separatist politician. The CIA is watching Pascal, and they recruit Cage to help nab him and bust up the crime ring.
So that’s the high-concept premise. Then you also have the fact that a middle-aged Cage has frequent conversations with a younger gonzo CGI version of himself. At one point, they exchange a passionate kiss in a hotel bar, very strange. And then you have the fact that Pascal’s character wants Cage to read his screenplay. The two of them develop a charming and cute bromance. Pascal drops a lot of references to old-school Nicolas Cage action movies and owns what must be the world’s most expensive collections of Cage memorabilia.
This movie shares 10 to 20 percent of its DNA with ‘Being John Malkovich,’ but it doesn’t have any of that movie’s avant-garde pretensions. It’s also somewhat reminiscent of ‘The Last Action Hero,’ in its ability to make meta-commentary on movies that are better, or at least more popular. But ‘Unbearable’ has a much lower budget than the self-referential 90s blockbusters it resembles. At some point, it cleverly pivots from being a commentary on a cheesy Nic Cage action movie to actually becoming one, with a reasonably gratifying payoff. And there are a couple of super-wacky and memorable set pieces where Cage gets to flex his gifts for physical comedy.
Cage has made a mid-late career pivot into weird indie genre films. This might be the closest he comes to recreating movies like Con Air and The Rock and National Treasure that made him a multi-millionaire superstar. But this movie isn’t those movies, too self-aware to fully descend into cheese, but also too self-aware to fully commit. Though Pascal is pretty delightful as Cage’s sidekick, seemingly grateful to emote outside of his signature armor, the rest of the cast doesn’t match Cage’s energy at all. Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz play FBI agents, but Barinholtz barely appears at all, as though his day rate ran out. And at some point we have to stop saying “this movie wastes Tiffany Haddish” and think, maybe that’s all Tiffany Haddish has on offer.
The third act of ‘The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent’ is actually bloodier and more cynically violent than it should be, though there is a good 11th-hour twist. Mostly, it’s expensive hip bro fan fiction about Nicolas Cage. He sings himself and celebrates himself. If that sounds like a good time to you, then you’re in for a good time. But like with the classic Cage action movies, you kind of had to be there to enjoy yourself. It’s pretty funny, and kind of dumb.