Find me someone who doesn’t appreciate Nicolas Cage and I’ll find you someone not worth knowing. Be it a ridiculous actioner, and awards-worthy drama, or a complete piece of shit, one thing can be certain: Nicolas Cage is going to show the fuck up. Sure, he’s got bills to pay on account of having purchased so many castles and novelty jackets, but if you’ve got Cage on your call sheet, you are getting the best performance money can buy. Like Kurt Russell, Dolly Parton and Sylvester Stallone, Nicolas Cage is never going to give you anything less than his best, even if his best is considerably more than the project needs. This is why we love him. He can do Leaving Las Vegas as well as he can do Honeymoon in Vegas. He can give us a career defining performance in Pig decades after giving us two career defining performances in Adaptation. He’s unfathomably talented, hyper-fathomably strange, and in a universe adjacent to our own, he’s Superman (don’t worry, he still managed to name his son Kal in honor of the things that never were). He is a Coppola, but there is no nepotism here (which is true about most of Coppola’s genetic spin-offs — lots of talent in that pool). Even if dropped into Hollywood as a completely blank slate, Cage would be just as famous and beloved as he is today. He’s that good..
This is why it breaks my heart to report that The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, despite having a handful of extremely funny moments, is a pretty lame movie.
In it, Cage plays an alternate version of himself (think This is The End or The Trip). This version is just as cocky and talented, but he’s much more concerned about his image, as evidenced by his too-perfect beard, made almost entirely of dye. He’s at a crossroads both in his personal life and in his career. Should he embrace a low key lifestyle, or should he heed the advice of his younger self (played here with gusto by a digitally de-aged Nic Cage) and give the world the maniac it craves? Well, either way, he needs some cash, which is why he has taken a job as a novelty guest at an extremely wealthy fan’s house in Spain. Cage figures he can be in and out with haste, sucking up free drinks and poolside time, while lining his pockets with a cool million for his troubles. Then he can return to the states, win back his ex-wife’s trust, and hopefully be the father his daughter so desperately craves.
What Cage doesn’t know is that his mysterious superfan (Pedro Pascal) may be a truly repulsive supercriminal. Soon after arriving, the star of The Rock is drawn into a life of espionage at the surprise request of a duo of law enforcement agents (Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz), who hire Cage to do some recon during his stay. You know how the rest goes.
And it’s a terrible shame that you do. This film could have and should have been something special. This should have met our expectations and then subverted them. The novelty of this insane concept should have been the basis upon which an sturdy action movie was built — upon which the single joke represented by the trailer could be expanded into something brilliant. Instead, we’re left with a bland, basic movie from the Skyscraper school of action filmmaking where it’s uncommonly clear that the players, despite sharing a scene, aren’t actually in the same room as one another, and that whatever action sequence they find themselves in was created after the fact in a green box. Yes, movies are often filmed with an actor working with a reader, but this case is different. While it’s always better to have actors responding to one another in real time, many a film has gotten away with composing a scene from pieces, with no viewer being any the wiser, buuuuuuuut when it comes to comedy, especially that which comes in the form of witty repartee, to abandon the in-person energy that two comic performers build a scene upon is absolute death. It’s insane to be for a scene that features Nicolas Cage, Tiffany Haddish, and Ike Barinholtz to be so aggressively inert. Heck, I’d bet good money that Barinholtz and Cage have never met in real life, despite having argued about action shit in the back of a “moving” van (see: green box).
Instead of using such an insane setup to purchase unlimited narrative freedom, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent puts all of its weight on its concept and calls it a day.
All in all, the meme potential here is unending, but that just proves my assertion that unless you really do something smart and subversive with the material, it’s all that much better as a trailer than it is a feature. Adaptation did it better and earlier, and did so with a Cage that was much more willing to do something daring. Not that Cage phones in Massive Talent (that’s an impossibility), but more so that he’s such a surprising, strange, fearless actor, that it feels like a waste to have him stretch a simple wink and nod gag to feature length.
Still, he and Pascal are legitimately great together. I’d love to see more of them as a duo, but not in a sequel or anything. My fear is that Nic Cage is about to do what Christopher Walken did in the early 2000s. Namely, become so self-aware of his own personality-as-a-brand, that he leans too hard into it and kills the joke. No love lost to Walken, who remains one of the best to ever do it, but if Cage follows in his footsteps and a Nic Cage impression becomes the new frat house standard, we stand to lose what could be a boundary-pushing post-middle age body of work from America’s strangest sweetheart.
All in all, I can’t imagine anyone would hate this movie, but once the novelty dies down it will likely be forgotten, as there is little else to hold on to beyond its base concept. If you’re going to see it, see it with a crowd. It’s bound to work best that way.
Directed by Tom Gormican
Written by Tom Gormican, Kevin Etten
Starring Nicolas Cage, Pedro Pascal, Tiffany Haddish, Sharon Horgan
Rate R, 107 minutes