The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

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Hell yeh – The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is that sort of movie, a brash, fun one-joke affair with a concept strong enough to keep itself motoring until about half an hour from the end. Your mileage may vary.

The joke comes in two versions. One is the Larry David one about a person playing a near-facsimile of themselves. Nicolas Cage here plays Nick (note extra “k”) Cage, a mega-acting legend who decides to pack it all in and then ends up in a real-life version of a Nicolas Cage movie – Con Air variety.

The second iteration is borrowed from Adaptation (which Cage also starred in) and features a younger Cage double – floppy hair, black leather jacket, cocaine levels of enthusiasm – who pops up now and again to deliver pep talks to the older man. “I’m an actor,” says the older Cage defensively to his outraged younger self. “You’re a movie star and don’t ever fucking forget it,” screams Cage the younger, piling a fist into the older man’s face for emphasis.

The younger Cage doesn’t appear too often, which is handy because there’s enough to be dealing with already. A plot about Cage as a terrible ex-husband and father (to Sharon Horgan and Lily Sheen respectively) getting involved with a Cage superfan and mega-billionaire sort (played by Pedro Pascal) who might be the international criminal mastermind responsible for the kidnapping of… 

It honestly doesn’t matter. The plot is a tissue there to help soak up the sweat flung off by Cage as he launches into one spoof on his own screen (and public) persona after another. Writer/director Tom Gormican, who somehow persuaded Cage to star in his second feature (after the borderline unwatchable That Awkward Moment), has worked out that the public perception of Cage is that he’s an even bigger, more erratic and ego-driven character than any of the characters he plays, so why not cut out the middle man by having Cage star as himself.

Javi and Nick jump off a cliff
Javi and Nick jump off a cliff

Along the way there are all the things you want from a film like this. Most obviously the mad hair, the references to Cage’s dire mismanagement of his own personal finances, the wrecked marriages (he’s currently on number five) and the allusions to a back catalogue that veers wildly all over the place in terms of quality as well as genre – Guarding Tess (a sensitive two-hander with Shirley MacLaine), to Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (a romance), to Face/Off (gonzo action comedy), to Mandy (revenge horror), to National Treasure (Indiana Jones meets The Da Vinci Code) to Con Air (gonzo action comedy in a plane), to Gone in 60 Seconds (cars, cars, and cars). Plus Cage’s ability to make fun of himself by doing it all with an absolutely straight face.

It’s surreal to such a degree that when Cage and possible bad guy Javier (Pascal) at one point take acid things actually calm down a bit. For a while.

Cage is a master of unspeakable dialogue and so gets to say things like “my nouveau shamanic acting ability”. Pascal acts as a foil, and he’s good at that, amplifying the nonsense but never getting in Cage’s light. Horgan squeezes some laughs out of an underwritten role as Cage’s long-suffering partner (ex-partner maybe) and Lily Sheen, daughter of Michael Sheen and Kate Beckinsale, tries not to look like she knows only too well what it is to be Hollywood offspring.

Apparently the home entertainment release will feature a segment that ended up on the digital cutting room floor featuring Cage doing a series of extracts from some of his big movies on a set mocked up to look like it’s been lifted from the German expressionist silent classic The Cabinet of Dr Caligari – one of the film’s running jokes.

“We’re back. Not that we went anywhere,” is another running joke, shared between Cage the younger and the older and actually pointing out how odd Cage’s career has been. A proper popular movie star when there aren’t many left and yet still also a cult item, a man who’s capable of turning up in one turkey after another and not losing his fanbase. Kabuki acting, he’s called it. There’s plenty of it here.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2022

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