Movie Review: ‘The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent’

Director: Tom Gormican

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Pedro Pascal, Sharon Horgan, Lily Sheen, Tiffany Haddish, Ike Barinholtz, Paco León, Neil Patrick Harris

Plot: Hollywood star Nick Cage is anxious about this future career and struggling to connect with his teenage daughter. Out of desperation he takes a job appearing at a billionaire’s birthday in Majorca only to become embroiled in a CIA sting operation against a gun runner.

Review: When a high concept comedy film comes along one has to wonder how long the gag can be sustained over the runtime of a movie. In this case, the gag is that famous actor Nicolas Cage is playing Nick Cage, a character based on his public image. Over the decades we have seen Cage go from an edgy and energetic newcomer, a high-intensity award contender, a master of schlock and more recently the basis for endless memes. It feels as though it’s that last node in the timeline of his career has brought him the most goodwill from the public, seeing him as a loveable loon embellished by a mythos around dinosaur skulls, foul-mouthed pet crows, drug binges, pyramid tombs and madcap, over-the-top performances. He’s a unique one, we can tell you that.

It’s from this mythos that we get the character of Nick Cage (Cage), a Hollywood star whose entire identity is tied into this role. His sense of self-worth is heavily tied to his career, he drive his car from Gone in Sixty Seconds and he turns every conversation topic to himself. With a frustrated ex-wife, an increasingly distant daughter and unhelpful agent, Cage stresses about his career falling apart but can’t fathom how this situation can be improved without getting the ‘role of a lifetime’. When he’s at a low point he accepts a job to make an appearance at a part in Majorca. Here he meets billionaire playboy Javi (Pascal), a huge fan of Cage keen to show him his screenplay.

Cage is surprised at how quickly him and Javi bond over their shared passions and he begins to see value in himself again. At this point Cage is approached by two CIA agents (Haddish and Barinholtz) who inform him that Javi is an international arms dealer currently holding a politician’s daughter hostage somewhere on his compound. Now recruited by the CIA, Cage is caught between his new ego-boosting friendship and the mission to rescue a young girl. Things are complicated further with the arrival of Cage’s family, as Javi wants to help them resolve their issues.

So the gimmick is that Cage is the person he’s perceived to be in the public consciousness, and he has to become more like his most famous roles to become an action hero. There’s been movies of this ilk before, such as Jean-Claude Van Damme’s JVCD providing an introspective platform for the actor and Being John Malkovich, which used the titular real life actor to add to the surreal nature of the film. More so than those other film, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent hinges on the audience being familiar with Cage not just by reputation but through his roles. This may have led to the film’s poor showing at the box office compared to its favourable reviews, as if you strip that away you lose the main connective tissue holding the film together.

Not that it isn’t a funny experience. There’s a reason we return to his movies times and time again, and that’s because he’s a damn entertaining person. His earnest, desperate performance here is as fun as ever with Cage and Pascal chew up the scenery and bounce off each other with ease. They make for a solid comedic duo with Pascal as the optimist to Cage’s pessimist. There is something to enjoy beyond the concept.

But like most comedy movies coming out in the past 20 years, it doesn’t have any restraint. I don’t know why, but comedy movies seem to have become the place where junior editors cut their teeth. Every scene, shot and gag gets stretched out as long as possible. It’s ok to make the movie a bit snappier, even if you have to cut some of the ad-libs. Maybe even experiment with using the editing and the camera to enhance the comedy rather than framing them off-centre and cutting back and forth between their faces while they talk. It’s dull from a film-making perspective, leaning on the concept to carry things across the finish line. A neat 20 minutes could’ve been cut from the film without losing any of the experience.

A fun idea, but it doesn’t get explored much further than that.

Rating: SIX out of TEN