A movie like The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent runs the considerable risk of sinking under the unbearable weight of its own pretensions. After all, the film’s very premise feels insufferably hip and ironic: Nic Cage plays “Nick Cage,” an outsized version of himself. As he struggles with a fragile ego and a faltering career, Cage’s “Cage” gets swept into a rollicking, 007-style action movie. Even after that two-sentence logline, the story is already in grave danger of being too cute for its own good. Thankfully, director Tom Gormican (co-writing with Kevin Etten) strips away any arthouse vanity this movie could have, and maintains a vibe of freewheeling goofiness. It doesn’t hurt that Cage can not only laugh at his own celebrity, but also bring us in on the jokes.
The story begins with Cage in a career funk. Meatier roles have vanished; directors don’t court him like they used to. What’s worse, Cage’s personal debts are sky-high and his ever-patient wife (Sharon Horgan) has reached a breaking point. Toss in a fractured relationship with his teenage daughter (Lily Sheen), and you’ll find Cage as a man in full crisis mode. Things seem to get better and worse when his agent (Neil Patrick Harris) broaches a lucrative–and potentially humiliating–opportunity. In something right outta Spinal Tap, a wealthy Spaniard offers Cage $1 million to fly to Majorca and regale him with a few stories. Naturally, this gig is a barometer for how far Cage’s career has fallen, but it’s also a job he can’t refuse. Duly humbled, he boards a jet and heads for the Mediterranean.
Once there, Cage is surprised by what he finds. Javi (Pedro Pascal) is a legitimate Nick Cage superfan. He knows all the minutiae of Cage’s career, and has leaned on obscure films like Guarding Tess in troubled moments of his life. He even has a creepy shrine loaded with props from Cage’s movies. But beyond this giddy fangirling, Javi is thoughtful, fun-loving, and deceptively wise. He and Nick become kindred spirits–the bestie each has been missing.
Now, here’s where the filmmakers spritz a little Tabasco in the goulash. (*This is a mild spoiler, so proceed on your tippy toes.) Turns out, the Feds have been tailing Javi for some time. We learn that Nick’s new nutty buddy might be the head of an international drug cartel. The CIA team is led by Vivian (Tiffany Haddish) and Martin (Ike Barinholtz). They approach Nick with a daring plan: Turn superspy and help gather evidence to bring down Javi. This puts Nick in a pickle on two fronts. Obviously, he has to go turncoat on his new bro-bro. Even worse, failing this mission could mean result a grisly death. I’m imagining one where the bad guys literally take his face…off.
That’s as deep as I wanna wade into this movie’s plot. Part of Unbearable Weight’s massive magic lies within its oddball surprises. The more I unfurl in this review translates into less buzz for you, my dearest readers. Suffice to say that things get more batshit in the film’s second act, and we’ll leave it right there.
Instead of spoilers, let’s talk what makes this movie damn near a classic. First off, I love the real Nic Cage’s attitude toward the whole project. He fully commits to the idea of poking fun at himself and his public persona. This infuses the film with an infectious silliness that keeps the tone light and humorous throughout. Gormican even brings Cage’s superstar ego to life, in the form of a manifestation of his younger self, circa Raising Arizona. This younger, leather-clad version of Cage appears in moments of doubt and confusion to goad his older self into action. More than anything, this sends up the classic Nic Cage we all know and love, with his wild eyes and shocks of unkempt hair flowing into the air.
Unbearable Weight‘s sense of giddy eccentricity gets amplified by Pascal, who’s never been so kooky and fun. His Javi is an amiable man-child, with a guileless attachment to Cage. The two actors forge such a relaxed chemistry, it elevates the entire movie. In fact, I wouldn’t mind if Cage and Pascal team up again.
All this adds up to a clever, relentlessly entertaining action comedy. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent may not sweep the Oscars, but it’s also not the high-concept Hindenburg it could’ve been. It wears its weirdness proudly, like a well-earned merit badge. For anybody who’s steered away from this movie on the fear it would be overwrought with wackiness: It is, but in the best possible way. Don’t surprised if you love it like I did.
107 min. R. (In theaters and on demand only.).