There are multiple Nic Cages on display in the new meta action-comedy The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent: the financially struggling actor with a penchant for lavish purchases and hotel stays that would bankrupt the budget of Vermont; a less-than-attentive father who means well but is quickly losing the patience of his teenage daughter; and, above all, the artist devoted to his craft. Oh, and there’s also Nicky, the Vampire’s Kiss-era Cage who haunts the real Nic Cage, who is there to remind the thespian that he’s first and foremost a movie star. For Nicky, it’s less artsy, more fartsy.
So, then, I wonder what Nicky, with his glued-on pompadour and leather jacket, would think of his flesh and blood counterpart’s newest (and welcomed return to) big screen joint? My guess is he would love the action-packed ending, but would be bored to sleep with the set-up. Which is unfortunate. Nicky, you missed a hell of a party.
Director Tom Gormican and his co-writer Kevin Etten have thrown a wild bacchanal to celebrate the career of perhaps the most versatile actor in American cinema history. Many of Cage’s past hits (and some misses) are referenced throughout the 107-minute film, including a sly match shot of Cage staggering into a swimming pool, beer bottle in his hand, that’s straight out of Leaving Las Vegas. At one point, a CIA agent, played rather stiffly by Tiffany Haddish, asks for a selfie with the star — her niece loves Croods 2 — while she slips a tracking device inside his coat pocket. There’s also a running gag about Guarding Tess, a mostly forgotten 1994 Shirley MacLaine comedy about a first lady and Cage’s miserable Secret Service agent. The movie is as much a greatest hits compilation than I even expected going in.
There is a plot, not that it matters much. We’re here to see Nic Cage be Nic Cage. Or Nicky Cage, too. As it goes, cash poor Cage is given an offer of a million bucks from his agent Fink (Neil Patrick Harris) to fly to Spain for the birthday party of a billionaire super fan. Played pitch-perfectly by Pedro Pascal as olive magnate Javi Gutierrez, who might also have a side hustle as a leading arms dealer, the chemistry between these two leads harkens back to a different era of cinema known as the “Buddy Comedy.”
Cage and Pascal milk the relationship between narcissistic superstar and his unwavering admirer for every possible laugh. Their bromance is what both men needed in their lives. Even when the reveal of Gutierrez’s Cage Cave is revealed, we know it’s about devotion and not the work of some sicko like we saw in Cage’s Face/Off co-star John Travolta’s dreadful Moose or whatever it was called.
As a Cage fanatic myself, it was a true joy to see the actor be so present in a movie. That’s not an acting critique. Say whatever you will about the seemingly endless drek Cage has slapped his name on over the past decade — he starred in six movies in 2019 alone! — dude never phones it in. I mean physically present.
Not to get too into the industry weeds, but the deal with those low budget thrillers Cage seems to pop up in every two weeks (same goes for John Cusack and, before his illness became public, Bruce Willis) is that the star gets half the budget, up front. After that check clears, you get to make your movie with whatever resources you have left. Oh, and the star can only shoot for a week, at best, because they’re due on another set soon. See what I mean by present? Watch some of those films (and, then, only some of that particular film) and you’ll notice the star is rarely in the same shot as his co-stars. That’s because, most likely, they were gone in sixty seconds (see what we did there?) by the time it came time for the co-stars’ lines. But here Cage is clearly engaged, giving it his all, and acting with his co-stars.
There are some twists and turns along the way, which I won’t spoil here. The plot, by the way, who gives a shit. Do all the jokes hit? No, but enough do. Are talents like Haddish and Ike Barinhotlz squandered here? Kind of. Did I have a great time watching this movie? Did I feel like a teenager again watching the king of ‘90s action films kick ass and deliver an emotionally powerful performance in the same scene? Was I happy to be in a theater to watch an original idea rather than just another superhero, franchise sequel, or ripped-from-Wikipedia docu-drama? You bet your sweet ass I did.
As a reviewer, I’m proud to say Nic Cage is back…not that he ever went anywhere.