The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a meta comedy starring Nicolas Cage as a formerly popular actor named Nick Cage, who is now struggling to get meaningful roles. Hard up for money, he agrees to appear at a rich fan’s birthday party in Mallorca for a substantial sum of cash. That leads to an adventure involving the CIA, international arms dealers, a kidnapping plot, many self-deprecating jokes about Cage’s career and a welcome appreciation for the brilliance of Paddington 2. It is pretty entertaining when Cage gets to send himself up, but far less successful when it focuses on its highly derivative plot. Just because it clearly knows it’s following a formula doesn’t make it any more enjoyable to watch it go through those lazy motions. Despite that, as a fan of Nicolas Cage, it is still kind of fun.
Cage is known for working a lot, oftentimes in projects that seem to be below his skill set. However, regardless of the quality of the overall movie, Cage is generally very much worth seeing. He is talented enough to play in basically anything, yet over-the-top Cage is the best Cage (give me the bizarreness of his performance in Willy’s Wonderland over the by-the-numbers dullness of the National Treasure series any day). Massive Talent is at its best when it leans into the goofiness of its concept.
When Cage and an affable Pedro Pascal (as his host) hang out and reference Cage’s filmography, it is silly and amusing. They have a likable odd-ball chemistry together and the screenplay gets a lot of mileage out of mocking an actor’s pretentiousness. When Cage is recruited to assist the CIA, who thinks the Pascal character is a dangerous criminal, it is far more routine. The CIA agents are played by Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz, who can both be really funny, but are totally wasted here. This certainly did not need so much plot.
If Massive Talent ultimately doesn’t quite work, it is because it doesn’t realize that its hook is “Nicolas Cage as a version of himself, riffing on his career and his place in modern-day Hollywood,” not “Nicolas Cage as a version of himself who stumbles into being an actual action hero.” The movie seems caught between those two ideas. While it is stronger as the former, it chooses the latter way too often. It is strangely edited; skipping past a couple of dialogue scenes that would have explained Cage’s CIA mission slightly better. It also is a little sloppy with payoffs, botching the landing on a few gags after promising setups.
When The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (98 minutes, without the end credits) does work, it is mostly because of Cage and Pascal. Pedro Pascal (best known for starring in The Mandalorian) is hilarious as an extremely eager fanboy. Nicolas Cage is equally hilarious as a professional thespian whose craft is more important to him than anything else in the world. The moments where they just talk are funnier than the big set pieces, though some of those are good as well.
The concept is clever and Cage definitely gives it his all, showing no fear at poking at himself or criticisms of his career choices. In the end, it doesn’t live up to the idea or the actor. It is too busy treading a well-worn path and doesn’t fully stick with what makes it stand out. Nonetheless, Nicolas Cage is characteristically great as Nick Cage. His fans should absolutely check this out.
3 out of 5
Nicolas Cage as Nick Cage
Pedro Pascal as Javi Gutierrez
Sharon Horgan as Olivia
Lily Mo Sheen as Addy
Tiffany Haddish as Vivian
Ike Barinholtz as Martin
Neil Patrick Harris as Richard Fink
Directed by Tom Gormican
Written by Kevin Etten and Tom Gormican