Nicolas Cage is a meme icon, his volcanic on-screen outbursts birthing a million gifs. His devoted cult of fans both worship and snigger at his wild acting choices, which frequently dance between the ludicrous and the brilliant. Now comes ‘The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent’, in which the actor sends up his own mythos.
The actor portrays himself as something of a has-been, crippled by debt. Financial salvation arrives in the form of an invitation to Mallorca, to be the special guest of millionaire and superfan Javi (Pedro Pascal). However, his host’s secretive background could spell danger for the A-Lister.
The trailer promised ‘The Most Nicolas Cage Movie Ever’. That’s kind of true: this is a love letter to all things Cage, a treasure trove of references that will delight movie geeks.
However, for a film that celebrates one of the most eccentric talents in Hollywood, it’s head-scratchingly formulaic.
“Director Tom Gormican is no auteur: he’s a fanboy”
Cage soars when paired with similarly idiosyncratic filmmakers with distinctive styles, whether it’s David Lynch with ‘Wild at Heart’ or Spike Jonze with ‘Adaptation’. Director Tom Gormican, however, is no auteur: he’s a fanboy. He relies on the novelty appeal of his star’s meta-performance yet dumps him in an entirely generic action-comedy.
What’s more, his screenplay acknowledges its own by-the-numbers laziness. Within the film, Cage and Javi work on a script together and debate whether including a clichéd kidnapping scenario would help give it broader appeal. It’s as if Gormican and co-writer Kevin Etten think that a jokey wink to the audience lets them off the hook. (It’s not even an original joke: ‘Adaptation’ did the same thing two decades ago.)
“What’s particularly enjoyable is Cage’s dual role as both himself and his younger alter-ego Nicky”
Despite the predictable plotting, Cage is completely committed to the gag, and his self-lampooning performance is very funny. What’s particularly enjoyable is his dual role as both himself and his younger alter-ego ‘Nicky’, a convincing de-aging job that brings him back to his manic ’90s peak.
Pedro Pascal, however, is miscast as Javi. He’s far too likeable to convince as an obsessive fan, the kind of devotee who builds a museum to his idol. To work, the role requires the sort of weirdness Robert DeNiro brought to ‘The King of Comedy’. But we never feel uncomfortable in Pascal’s presence, and the film desperately needs that tension.
The supporting cast is rather mundane: Tiffany Haddish is wasted as an exposition-equipped CIA agent, while Sharon Horgan and Lily Sheen are lumped with thankless mum and daughter roles. Only Neil Patrick Harris gets to have some fun, his effortlessly slimy agent one of the highlights.
‘Unbearable…’ zips along at a swift pace and is never outright boring, but if it was aiming to be the ultimate Cage experience, this falls far too short. A double feature of ‘Wild At Heart’ and ‘Face/Off’, on the other hand? Now you’re talking…
An amusing setup soon gives way to a disappointingly mediocre action-comedy, despite Cage’s gleefully self-satirising turn. This could have been so much crazier…
Bruce Micallef Eynaud is the creative director at VSQUARED and is also a filmmaker, working mainly in commercials and short films. He’s also a movie geek with an MA in Film Studies. His favourite filmmakers are Steven Spielberg, Paul Thomas Anderson and Richard Linklater.