By Elias Savada.
Two-thirds broad comedy, one part chase film, it’s also a gimmick and an enjoyable bromance.
Yeah, this is one nutty film. Its premise revolves around a famous actor named Nick Cage, played by the real Nicolas Cage. Two-thirds broad comedy, one part chase film, it’s not the first time someone has played a fabricated version of him/herself in a fiction film. Some samplings include John Malkovich in Being John Malkovitch, John Claude Van Damme in JCVD, Bill Murrary in Zombieland, Neil Patrick Harris (who has a small role in this film) in any of the Harold & Kumar films, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Last Action Hero. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent offers another variation of these original meta-zen concepts, while also creating a good amount of self-poking fun and a modicum of action thrills.
After a disastrous critical reception for his debut feature (2014’s That Awkward Moment), director Tom Gormican has bounced back nicely with his sophomore effort. He’s been busy creating and producing the spirit comedy Ghosted on the Fox network, but with co-writer Kevin Etten, a tv veteran and longtime showrunner for Comedy Central’s Workaholics, the pair crafted one smart spec script. “Nick didn’t know us, and we didn’t have a body of work he could check,” offered Etten. Thank goodness, the actor liked what he read.
Taking apart many of the actor’s multi-genre-spanning films (and their reception), then reassembling bits of them within the screenplay to make a lively homage to the star, the filmmakers have created that quirky alternate universe that lampoons some of Cage’s work in an affectionately humble way. Maybe some viewers might look at this as mockumentary, but it’s just a light-hearted flick where a famous movie star gets caught up in the criminal shenanigans purportedly run by the real Nicolas Cage’s biggest fan, then gets enlisted by the CIA to spy on him.
The film’s heart-tugging backbone is family. Nick (his frustrated, self-absorbed, on-screen persona) is struggling to find solid, creative work. He’s divorced from his wife, Olivia (Sharon Horgan), and an embarrassing dad to their 16-year-old daughter, Addy (Lily Sheen), who refuses to agree with his constant ravings that the German silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a masterpiece.
In debt (something that actually happened to the real Cage), he reluctantly accepts $1 million to be a guest at the birthday party of wealthy Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal), a devoted follower.
Jetting off for a few days to Javi’s extravagant estate in Mallorca, Spain (but apparently mostly shot in Croatia and Hungary), the anxiety-fueled Nick is corralled by secret agents Vivian and Martin (Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz, playing serious with a large dose of comic we-don’t-know-what-we’re-doing panache). For the friendless Nick, Javi provides a blossoming tai chi comradeship that rubs against the two agents’ insistence that the rich host is involved in a criminal empire and a related political kidnapping scheme. Can someone who has a collection including the burnt bunny from Con Air, the diapers from Raising Arizona, and the green prop nerve agent glass beads seen in The Rock, truly be a devious villain? Can someone who can quote just about any line from the actor’s repertoire and thinks Nicky’s gift for acting “brings light and joy to an increasingly dark and broken world” be capable of extortion? Heck, he’s even written a screenplay he wants Cage to star in!
Naturally, buddy comedy antics ensue. The pair cry while watching Paddington 2, trip on LSD, and yet still become suspicious, even dangerous, to one another, until their misaligned conceptions right themselves. By the third act, Cage’s family becomes involved in an extended car chase and shootout, replacing most of the funny dialogue with violent action scenes.
Pascal takes off his Mandalorian helmet and offers superb comic riffs opposite Cage. If Nicolas Cage playing Nick Cage isn’t enough, there’s also an imaginary, younger-by-CGI Wild at Heart long-haired version, Nicky, that taunts his other self. They even playfully credit this secondary Cage as played by Nicholas Kim Coppola, Cage’s real name.
As a gimmick film, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a hoot. Even if you’ve only watched a handful of the over 100 films Cage has “acted” in (critics haven’t always been kind), the Oscar-winning thespian (for 1995’s Leaving Las Vegas) does a great job playing a self-deprecating version of himself. An enjoyable bromance that shows us that Nicolas Cage has once again bounced back into public view, although if you saw last year’s underseen Pig, I don’t think he ever left the building.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).