'Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent' review: Nicolas Cage gets role of a lifetime in meta comedy
Courtesy of Lionsgate
The enigma of Nicolas Cage is something that can’t be understated enough. From headlining mega-blockbusters to somber, more intimate character driven pieces (see last year’s excellent “Pig” which was arguably the actor’s best performance), the Oscar winner, whether he wanted it or not, has become the poster child for meme culture. He’s shown up on sequin pillows, clothing, and has clips from lower-budget indies taken out of context to fuel this manic, I drink Tiger’s blood, narrative. Thanks to director Tom Gormican’s ingenious meta comedy, “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” Cage is finally getting the last laugh.
It makes perfect sense the first mainstream studio picture Cage would headlined since “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” (I’m not counting his animated turn in both “Croods” movies) would be playing a cracked-up version of himself, plus the alter-ego, de-aged variation Nicky. In a strange way, it feels like the role Cage was born to play and it's fun watching the actor unfurl all the pent-up frustration endured during the last decade when he’d constantly make headlines for whatever grungy direct-to-VOD B-movie he was making. Some of them yielded the best work of his career (“Mandy”) while others (“Joe”) did not. Through it all, Cage maintained credibility and respect within the industry and “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” marks a return to form and hopefully the start of a new chapter.
Even if the narrative is too cute and overly meta for its own good, (there’s such a thing as excess self-referential commentary), “Massive Talent” playfully deconstructs Cage’s insecurities with quips about the actor’s expansive career, with nods to “National Treasure,” “The Rock” and even “The Croods 2.” But the Cage written on the page in “Massive Talent” is of course a heavily dramatized version of the Nicolas Cage we think we know. I’m sure the real Nicolas Cage wouldn’t corner filmmaker David Gordon Green (“Halloween”) in a valet parking garage and pitch his take on a character whilst unspooling a full-blown Boston accent. Then again, maybe he would. Gormican (and co-writer Kevin Etten) aren’t trying to blur the lines so much as remind audiences Cage can dial it up whenever someone says action.
In “Massive Talent,” Cage is washed-up, going through a divorce, struggling to connect with his teenage daughter (Sharon Horgan), and simultaneously looking for his next project, but the phone isn’t ringing. Ready to retire and call it quits, his agent (Neil Patrick Harris) sets him up with one last gig to pay off debts: A $1 million offer to make a brief appearance at a Spanish billionaire’s birthday party. Showing-up with major jetlag and hungover, Cage arrives and meets an eager host, Javi (Pedro Pascal) who is without question his biggest, most ardent fan and has a screenplay he’d like to float him.
Everything seems peachy and the two eventually bond over their love of, all things, “Paddington 2” and a hankering to collaborate on a character-driven adult drama, but that’s interrupted by Vivian (Tiffany Haddish) and Martin (Ike Barinholtz), two CIA agents trying to infiltrate Javi and his inner circle. They want Cage to help them recover the kidnapped teenage daughter of a Catalan presidential candidate and bring down Javi who they say is a ruthless international trades dealer responsible for the snatch. For Cage, it’s just another acting job on the same level as Tom Cruise or Harrison Ford. He’s back, baby!
The Vivian and Martin characters don’t really add much substance to the movie other than brief comedic asides and even then, it’s short-lived. “Talent” doesn’t soar to new creative highs by essentially winking at the audience with all the Cage bits, including the younger counterpart Nicky who pops in from time-to-time to scream he’s “Nicholas F$@#& Cage!”
The film’s latter half gives way for lousy chases through the Spain countryside and an acid trip that’s not as funny as it thinks it is, but the bromance between Pascal and Cage is concrete, giving “Talent” a much-needed emotional boost during the rushed finale, which does send the viewer out on a high note. “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” could have existed to stoke the flames of the mythmaking of Cage’s own violation (it could have also gone horribly wrong and became another blemish on the actor’s resume) but it ends up playing like a redemption arc where the performer, rather than ditch the spotlight, tell us that he’s actually here to stay.
THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT opens in theaters Friday, April 22nd.