‘The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent’: Script doesn’t carry enough weight
Following up one of the very best performances of his career in Pig, Nicolas Cage is back with his most challenging role yet: Nicolas Cage.
The taunted and vaunted star is naturally playing a heightened version of himself in the cheekily titled The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, an undeniably affable, if frustratingly cursory, buddy comedy that may still satisfy the cult of Cage. That the finished product is more Midnight Run than Being John Malkovich is completely understandable from a marketing standpoint, but may be disappointing for those expecting, as the tagline boasts, “The Most Nicolas Cage Movie Ever.”
Yes, there are plenty of Easter eggs and nods to numerous films in Cage’s 40-year pilgrimage on-screen, but the fan service often feels more like window dressing than an integral part of what makes the mechanics of the movie work.
We meet this version of Cage as he is overselling himself to a director (David Gordon Green, in a cameo), who already seems nervous to cast him in his King Lear riff. As has seemingly been the case for the real-life Cage, this version is also struggling with finances, as mortgages and alimony to his ex-wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan) add up to more than he has to repay. Given the circumstances, his agent Richard (Neil Patrick Harris) is excited to report that Cage has been offered $1 million just to show up to the birthday party of wealthy super-fan Javi (Pedro Pascal). On his way to Spain, Cage is stopped by a pair of CIA agents (Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz), who don’t buy that Javi has become a billionaire strictly from working in the olive industry. As Cage and Javi’s bond grows closer, Cage is torn between helping the CIA and protecting his new friend from danger.
What’s most important about The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is that writer/director Tom Gormican is in on the joke with Cage, and seems to understand both the person and the persona at the center of this meta comedy. At various points in the film, Cage is confronted by a devil-on-the-shoulder version of his Wild at Heart character, whose bawdy advice is designed to get them back to the top, no matter what. It’s a derivative, but effective, way to bifurcate Cage’s larger-than-life screen presence from how he most likely behaves in real life. Gormican is able to reconcile Nic Cage: Leaving Las Vegas, Oscar winner with Nic Cage: star of The Wicker Man (yes, it’s referenced), and create a universe where both can peacefully co-exist.
The seeds of a great movie are there, but the soil isn’t packed as well as it could be. Having Cage go to an eccentric billionaire’s fancy villa and reflect on his storied screen career through the eyes of a super-fan is a terrific comedic setup. But Gormican wimps out, and dedicates most of the runtime to a broad storyline where Cage is investigating Javi’s potential cartel connections behind his back and doing a poor job of spying at the CIA’s behest. It sets up moderately funny scenes, like one where Cage breaks into a server room and accidentally gets knocked out by his own tranquilizing weapon. Cage sells it as well as Leonardo DiCaprio did in the Lemmon Quaalude scene from The Wolf of Wall Street, but it’s a nondescript sequence that could be in any other spy comedy from the last 10 years.
When the movie focuses on the friendship between Cage and Javi, it becomes sharper, both as a specific kind of drug-fueled buddy comedy and a compendium of Cage conceits. The inevitable scene where Cage finds Javi’s embarrassing shrine of his memorabilia features plenty of references to his past projects, but also narrows in on the peculiar bond between the two characters. When Cage happens upon a sequined pillow with his face on it and makes a self-effacing remark while swiping his hand across it, Javi lovingly puts the pattern back in order to reveal his face once more. Javi knows all sorts of fun facts about Cage, like the fact that he did his own car stunts for Gone In 60 Seconds, but still has more to learn about who the man actually is off-camera.
A more focused script would’ve made The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent an even bigger joy for fans. But as is, it’s an enjoyable romp centered around Hollywood’s most beguiling thespian.