4 min read

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Nicolas Cage, doing his least Nicolas Cage Nicolas Cage.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Nicolas Cage is a wonderful actor. That's not something that ought to be disputed any longer. For some reason, jokes about Cage's acting have become one of those cultural "truths", like Nickelback sucks or that Ryan Reynolds is handsome. It's something that's said over and over, until people stop questioning it and accept it as truth.

But Nicolas Cage is actually a very good actor. He's taken some bizarre turns, made some weird choices. Yet there is something immensely watchable about him, no matter the role.

Charm, charisma, those are nice. But sometimes, you just want to watch someone get real weird. You want to be captivated by someone who's going to give their all to the character and make choices that are baffling as much as they are enthralling. He's brought that spirit to an undead daredevil, a treasure hunter, a vigilante, a sorcerer, a driver, a caveman, a pilot, a father, black-and-white Spider-man, John Travolta, a convict, and his own twin. But so far, he's yet to play himself.

That's the biggest hook of "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent". We're being let into Cage's interior life, to see the actor behind the roles, the vulnerability behind the eccentric man who seemingly says yes to any script Hollywood drops in his lap.

And initially, that seems like what we're going to get. In his first scene, Cage does an impromptu audition for a screenwriter. He's without shame, he's desperate for his big break. He wants to cut his teeth again as an actor.

Great. A peek behind the curtain.

Then, in the car ride, Cage speaks to the man in the passenger's seat: Nicky. A de-aged Nicolas Cage, embodying all of Cage's most eccentric performances, with a leather jacket and blonde flopping hair. Nicky makes it clear to us that he's Cage's innermost desires for movie stardom, seeking recognition despite being in the industry for decades.

Coooool. "Adaption" did a little bit of this too, pitting Cage vs. Cage.

Then he's in therapy with his daughter, who makes it clear that he prioritizes his movies over his family.

Right, right. The art comes at a real cost. A little predictable but let's see.

And he's going to a birthday party for a billionaire, played by Pedro Pascal, before he decides to quit acting forever, realizing the toll it's taken on his life.

Alright, dark night of the soul and all that.

And then Tiffany Haddish from the CIA is telling him that the billionaire runs a violent cartel. And they need Nicolas Cage to help infiltrate the compound.

Okay, you're starting to lose me.

And now Nicolas Cage is bonding with Pedro Pascal, and they're connecting over their shared love of movies, the pursuit of the art form, and also a shared trip on acid.

Okay, I'm back! Bromance. Very funny. Great chemistry between Pascal and Cage.

But Haddish is calling again, telling Cage he has to stay on the compound. So Cage tells Pascal that they're going to make a movie together.

Fun. A little meta-stuff never really hurt anyone.

Pascal and Cage agree, they're making a character-driven movie, serious drama. No big action sequence.

I see, they're making fun of their movie! That's kinda funny, but mainly because these two are very good together.

And Haddish is telling Cage they have to insert a kidnapping into the movie. To give it a little spark. Because the marketing needs that.

Oh. Okay. I see where this is going.

And then it goes there.

And every single fun part of the movie basically just disappears. Nicky barely shows up again. Cage's internal turmoil about acting vanishes. Pascal and Cage's chemistry is present but overshadowed by some boring action sequences.

Because unfortunately, in trying to make fun of Nicolas Cage's past schlocky action films, "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" just ends up becoming one of the worst of them. Unlike "Con-Air" and "Face-Off" which are audacious, this film tries to have its cake and eat it too. It points out how boring action endings are and then takes us to that exact ending, except cinematically stale. There's none of the pizzazz of John Wu, the whackiness of Panos Cosmatos, or even the cheap thrills of Michael Bay. We're just getting a by-the-books action movie, that wants us to think it's smarter by also pointing out that it's a by-the-books action movie.

I could be overly harsh on this movie because I genuinely wanted to see a weird movie about Nicolas Cage, a bizarre figure and even stranger actor. And if Cage is playing himself, I was hoping for more of his meditative late-career work, bringing pathos and regret to his portrayal of himself.

But instead, we get a parody that is rarely funny when it is being parodic; The scenes themselves are only really enjoyable when Pascal and Cage are given room to play. Their chemistry is only made more noticeable by a lacklustre supporting cast, each of them adding very little to the film. Haddish, unusually, is a slog to watch in every scene, particularly when she tries to give notes on Cage's screenplay. It's tongue-in-cheek, but also forced and lacks any real punch.

Because that's the problem with parody: if you're not careful, you just end up making a worse version of the thing you're making fun of. Maybe it's not a parody, instead, it's homage. But homage is only worthwhile if something interesting is brought to the table. Unfortunately for "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent", it's a situation where perhaps too many intriguing items were introduced. Star-seeking Nicky could hardly contend with the CIA-kidnapping-mistaken identity-hidden disguise-cartel-espionage plot.

So we're left with this film, a decidedly disappointing, if not still a little fun, C-grade action movie that stars Nicolas Cage. I wish I could have enjoyed it more, especially considering Cage's willingness to make fun of himself. But like many of Cage's movies, Nicolas Cage is perhaps one of the only watchable things within it.

Now if you need me, I'll be rewatching "Con-Air".