Nicolas Cage is very much a love or hate kind of actor—his fanbase is loud and supportive, while his haters are equally so. I would say I find myself somewhere in the middle, admiring his off-the-wall performances in films like Face/Off and Gone in Sixty Seconds. He has an equal amount of missteps as he has hits in my opinion, yet meta feature The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent manages to channel the absolute best of his lengthy filmography. By roping in Game of Thrones, Narcos, and The Mandalorian breakout star Pedro Pascal to star alongside him, Cage forges the best onscreen duo of his career thus far. I’m a sucker for a well-written spin on a formula with real-life celebs at the center (see: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, or Seth Rogen’s This Is the End), and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent hit me right in the nostalgia gut.
A wealthy superfan named Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal) has written a script with Cage in mind to star, and the timing is just right. This fictional version of Nicolas Cage is strapped for cash (he’s said to owe over $600,000), with his familial relationships between his daughter, Addy (Lily Sheen), and wife, Olivia (Sharon Horgan), suffering because of it. Shortly after hitting rock bottom—which in this case constitutes losing out on a major role, then drowning his sorrows by getting drunk and performing an embarrassing ballad for his daughter at her 16th birthday—Cage is made an offer too irresistible to turn down. If he agrees to attend Javi’s birthday celebration in Spain, Cage will get paid $1 million. Furthermore, it could finally give him the chance to repay his debts and dig himself out of a deepening hole.
Par for the course with these types of offers, the prospect of meeting with Javi is easier in theory than what actually plays out. When Nick Cage lands in Spain, CIA operatives played by Ike Barinholtz and Tiffany Haddish plant a tracker on the actor. They make moves to recruit Cage to spy on Javi, in an effort to uncover his cartel links and help solve a possible kidnapping. To Cage, Javi seems warm and charming, a major fan of Cage the actor who opines bonding with his dying father over 1994’s Guarding Tess. The two share an instant connection, jumping off cliffs and doing LSD together. Cage must decide to remain faithful to this newfound friendship, or to aide the U.S. government in their efforts to bring Javi to justice.
This is the type of movie I have wanted from Cage for quite some time now, and the kind I always knew he had it in him to make. Utilizing his range and playful ability to make fun of himself and his storied career, screenwriters Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten distill the purest form of Cage’s vulnerability, and unleash it on an unsuspecting audience. To be clear, Cage is considerably less whacko playing himself here than say, Prisoners of the Ghostland or Mandy, which both relied on Cage screaming his way across the finish line. This brand of Cage performance is more along the lines of his Oscar-nominated turn in Adaptation, and is layered with nuance. The creators are careful to give the audience plenty of pure Cage moments, despite the relatively serious direction of Unbearable Weight’s first act. As he hallucinates a sort of alter ego of himself de-aged with impressive CGI technology, the movie’s version of the actor seems primed to return to his former glory as a big action star. The addition of Pascal as Cage’s foil was masterful indeed, especially as the pair’s dialogue back and forth comprise the heft of Unbearable Weight’s heart.
I can see the appeal of this project to Nicolas Cage, as an opportunity to take a playful poke at his past. The film makes interesting commentary on the beauties of cinema (namely, the sheer delights of Paddington 2!), and actors owing their gift of entertainment to the human race. It had to have been cathartic to comment on his projects without taking a stance on their quality. An admirable quality of the script is that it never expressly says anything Cage has filmed is poorly done, and lets the viewer spot the references all on their own without needing proper context. The more familiar one is with Cage’s career, the more likely level of enjoyment one will experience. Going full-tilt meta is a choice that serves to strengthen the film’s ending tenfold.
As it stands (according to IMDB anyway) The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is the 105th entry in Nicolas Cage’s filmography. Try to spot all of the easter eggs to Cage projects if one dares! The fact that even the infamous “not the bees!” sequence from 2005’s The Wicker Man remake receives a mention is a pure stroke of genius. Even if the remainder of his career cannot remain halfway as wild and exciting as his past decades in the industry, Cage would still leave behind the legacy of a man who dipped his toes unfathomably into just about every single existing genre. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent serves as loving tribute to this frequently unsung character actor in a way we have never seen before.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent unleashes a manic original script on audiences everywhere when it debuts exclusively in theaters on Friday, April 22nd.