SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Hollywood is no stranger to making filmic adaptations of books, plays, and even video games. The source material for “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is different; the film feels like it is inspired by internet memes about Nicolas Cage.
Nic Cage stars in the new film “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” set to be released April 22, 2022. What makes this role interesting, however, is that Cage plays a pseudo-real version of himself in the later years of his acting career.
In short, the film is pleasantly weird. Whether or not this and the myriad of belly laughs it generates is enough to make up for its weaknesses remains to be said.
“The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” starts strong, depicting Nicolas Cage as himself struggling in the later stages of his decades-long acting career. Cage is going through a divorce, a strained relationship with his teenage daughter played by Lily Mo Sheen, and has over $600,000 in debt to the hotel he is living in. What makes the opening sequence and remainder of the film most entertaining, however, is Cage’s usually beloved unhinged acting performance. Every line delivery is so shockingly weird it is hard to look away.
This kind of hyper-real, memetic representation of Cage by himself is delightful. It allows the audience to imagine that the “real” Cage is not too far divorced from the screen Cage: wide eyed and erratic while still commanding a remarkable amount of charisma. The film and Cage himself are relatively transparent about his performance as an illusion. It represents the Cage that lives in movie-goers’ heads rather than a real-world Cage, and honestly this representation is fun enough that the audience probably doesn’t even care what said real-world cage is like. Cage playing the role of pseudo-Cage is simply much more fun than a realistic representation of himself.
Cage’s mind-bending performance is supplemented by a good screenplay that puts him in situations that feel voyeuristic in the best possible way. These include Cage drunkenly improvising a birthday song at the piano, being pretty obnoxious in a family therapy session, crying while watching “Paddington 2” and passionately making out with an uncanny, computer-generated younger version of himself. Each of these got a solid belly laugh out of this critic.
The family drama is one centerpiece of the film, and while it does serve as an emotional tie between pseudo-Cage and the audience, it usually feels like a wet blanket thrown over the cleverness of the film. While Sharon Horgan does an excellent job with what she was given as Cage’s cranky, fictional ex-wife, it isn’t enough to make the struggling-marriage cliches work.
Pretty soon however, pseudo-Cage takes a job given to him by his agent played by Neil Patrick Harris during a massage that appears to be some kind of strange sadomasochistic ritual involving whip-like fans—Harris’ character all but looks into the camera and says that he loves it, earning another solid laugh. The job is to participate in a birthday party for Spanish elite—and probably weapons dealer—Javi Gutierrez, played by Pedro Pascal. Cage is quickly recruited by a CIA agent played by Tiffany Haddish, and spy antics immediately ensue.
Pascal serves as far more than a pretty face for the film. His over-the-top straight man performance overshadows Cage’s frequently throughout the film in terms of comedic value and downright charisma. Most of the film is centered around Cage and Pascal’s bromance. Pascal’s character is Cage’s biggest fan except for maybe pseudo-Cage himself, and helps him reignite his passion for acting.
Pascal and Cage’s antics at their best are an intelligent meta-commentary on art, personality, and friendship. They frequently look right at the camera—figuratively and literally—to remind the audience that they know they’re in a movie, and that this movie is about movies. These moments are charmingly funny for those dialed in to the Nick Cage fandom, particularly as it pertains to his internet memedom.
At its worst, the film is tongue and cheek, but not so enough. The spy antics are more Paul Blart than anything else and are almost always less entertaining than watching Cage and Pascal interact with each other playfully. Except for some notable pop tracks, the film’s score is so boiler plate it is almost funny by accident. The gag-worthy family drama continues throughout the film and culminates in a third act that is underwhelming for all the film’s build up.
Female characters in the film don’t get to join in any of the fun. Horgan, Sheen, and Alessandra Mastronardi all seem to be included to function as a literal and metaphorical truckload of damsels needing to be rescued as opposed to being interesting characters themselves. One could argue this could be part of the meta-commentary about Cage’s career—namely his female costars only appear as victims or romantic interests for Cage and other male protagonists—but this feels like giving the film too much credit, clever as it is.
The film is at least a fun bromance chocked full of fan service for Cage followers. Otherwise, it is almost more enjoyable academically than as a film in the traditional sense.