A film review by Craig J. Koban July 6, 2022

Rank: #23

THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT

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2022, R, 105 mins.

Nicolas Cage as Nicolas 'Nick' Cage  /  Pedro Pascal as Javi Gutierrez  /  Neil Patrick Harris as Ted  /  Tiffany Haddish as Vivian  /  Lily Mo Sheen as Addy  /  Ike Barinholtz as Ray  /  Sharon Horgan as Olivia 

Directed by Tom Gormican  /  Written by Gormican and Kevin Etten

There's a hysterical moment in the wonderfully titled THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT that features star Nicolas Cage (playing...Nicolas Cage) being taken to the ultimate Nicolas Cage fanboy shrine room of a ridiculous rich Spanish man that has hired him to be a guest of honor at his birthday.  In said shrine is a glass encased full scale statue of Cage from his 1997 magnum opus action thriller FACE/OFF (incidentally, one of my all-time favorite Cage films).  The Academy Award winning star stares at it with an inquisitive level of initial shock.  "Is that supposed to me?" he asks his B-day billionaire host.  Seconds later he adds "It's grotesque.  I'll give you $20,000 dollars for it." 

That made me laugh hard, as did most of the rest of THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT, which is not only a slyly effective and affectionate wink-wink homage to the iconic actor and his cinematic legacy, but it's also not afraid to poke fun at the actor's legendary - and some would say problematically daft - eccentricities on and off screen.  The film also manages to become a surprisingly sweet bromance picture that's further cross morphed with the kind of action flicks that typified Cage's career in the 1990s, like the aforementioned John Woo thriller, CON AIR (which is directly referenced very early in the film) and THE ROCK.  Beyond that, this Tom Gormican directed and Kevin Etten scripted affair wisely understands and points out the relative career highs and disastrous lows that embellished Cage's forty years in the industry, with the star - rather thanklessly - being an awfully good sport with it all and appearing eager to be in on this film's joke.  This is the same man that achieved Oscar glory decades ago and then - in recent times - began lending himself and his name to one retrograde B-picture after another (mostly to clear outstanding debts accrued from years of blowing his fortune, and making him an industry punchline as a result).  It would be easy to label THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT as a gimmicky stunt film, but what we get is refreshingly smart, sincere, and purposely and amusingly goofy piece of hero worship all the same.  It's also the funniest film I've seen since BARB AND STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR.     

Cage in the film has sort of hit rock bottom in his career.  As the story opens he's in desperation mode after being passed over on a number of high marquee roles that would have put him back on the map.  There's a funny - if not cringe inducing - early sequence involving Cage at a lunch business meeting with director David Gordon Green (playing himself, who also directed the star in JOE) that ends with the director seemingly trying to brush off the obnoxiously determined actor.  Cage professes that he'll do anything for the part in Green's film, but when he finds out later that the filmmaker has passed on his services he sinks into a pit of despair.  This gets him into hot water with his makeup artist ex-wife in Olivia (a wonderful Sharon Hogan) and his teenage daughter Andy (Lily Sheen), the latter of whom pleads with the family therapist that she's tired of her dad focusing just on his career and forcing her to watch old movies that she has no desire to consume.  When Cage drunkenly crashes Andy's sweet 16 birthday party Sharon gives him an ultimatum: Snap out of his existentialist funk and get a grip on life or lose his family permanently.  Not assisting matters is that Cage frequently hallucinates that his young WILD AT HEART-era self (dubbed Nicky) pops in at inopportune times to remind himself that he's damn movie star and should never apologize for it.  The filmmakers use some creepily effective de-aging VFX here on Cage to sell this bizarre illusion, and it highlights the story's overall go-for-broke zaniness at times. 

 

 

Realizing that his client is down in the financial and emotional dumps, agent Fink (Neil Patrick Harris) comes to the rescue and offers up Cage an easy job for some quick easy cash (which he needs ASAP): It appears that a billionaire Spanish playboy named Javi (a perfectly cast and hysterical Pedro Pascal) from Mallorca is one of Cage's biggest die hard fans and wants him to fly out to his mansion to be a guest at his lavish birthday party. Cage wants no part of this cockamamie business proposition and wants serious film work, but he realizes quickly that jobs have all but dried up and that the hotel he currently lives in wants him to immediately pay his half a million dollar tab.  Cage begrudgingly agrees and arrives in Spain to meet Javi, who despite his wealth and limitless stature seems nervously star struck and blown away to be in Cage's company.  And wouldn't ya know it, Cage starts to enjoy Javi's company, mostly because they share similar cinematic passions, and in no time they become thick as thieves.  Spoiling this budding friendship is the appearance of the FBI, who swoop in to inform Cage that his new BFF is a murderous kidnapper...and they now want the actor to team up with them to take this madman down.  

But...is Javi really a psychopath or has he been misidentified by the Feds and is just a giddily childish Cage fanatic that just wants to be besties with him? 

Pascal is this film's secret comic weapon, and the actor has fun playing into the possibilities as to whether or not this affluent man is just an olive-exporting businessman with an obsessive zest for Nic Cage movies or a gun-running lunatic that has now taken to kidnapping.  Early on it definitely appears that Javi is like one of the autograph seeking hounds that basks in the awesome glory of his idolized movie star's presence.  He seems like a kid in a candy store here and - outwardly at least - appears to display a sincere appreciation for everything that is Cage, and the puppy-like love that he exudes over his new guest makes this character infectiously likeable.  And because Cage respects Javi's fondness for him and the movie world as a whole, he gets sucked into the vortex of easy-going companionship with him.  I mean, it's really hard to hate this guy when he reveals to Cage that watching his 1994 comedy GUARDING TESS made him fix things with his estranged father.  Awwwww.  And when Cage is told by the Feds that this seemingly sweet, innocent, and boyish fan that is a lunatic that needs to be arrested pronto it causes him to have a crisis of conscious.  

I mean, Javi can't be a bad guy...right...right??? 

It's these middle sections of THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT when the film hits its deeply humorous stride, especially when honing in of the mismatched Buddy Movie conventions on display.  And then the film takes a 180 degree turn later when Cage finds himself in over his head and is forced by law enforcement to become an action hero ala CON AIR.  This leads to some spirited and outright weird moments, including an uproarious one with Cage pleading that he actually doesn't work for the CIA, but rather just belongs to the Screen Actors Guild and also AFTRA, and in relation to the last one he pitifully states "I think that it has something to do with radio."  Equally riotous is scene that has Javi and Cage discuss their three favorite films ever made, with the rich man sweetly admitting "I cried all the way through PADDINGTON 2 and it made me want to become a better man!"  When Javi reveals that it's his dream to pen a Nicolas Cage screenplay for his idol - and after partaking in some narcotics with his new pal - he states "Maybe it's the dugs talking, but what if we had a big drug scene (in the film)?"    

I mean, Javi can't be a bad guy...right...right??? 

Some of the other co-stars around Cage and Pascal score big laughs too, especially Sharon Horgan as Cage's long suffering wife, whose deadpan are you kidding me reactions to all of the madness that surrounds her ex-spouse makes the sheer absurdity of the premise here go down that much more smoothly.  Not everything works in this film, like the CIA subplot itself at times, with Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz appearing as the agents that conspire with Cage to bring Javi down (the basis of their suspicions of Javi is that he has led the kidnapping of the teenage daughter of the Catalan president - who's conveniently a die-hard Cage fan - and she's being held captive on Javi's property).  There's a valid argument to be made here that the film almost becomes paint-by-numbers Nicolas Cage action film (albeit with a high meta quotient) that we might have seen decades ago on the least inspired and is fairly conventional.  Still, the entire build-up to his grand action packed finale is so unendingly entertaining because of Cage and Pascal's willingness to go just about anywhere to nab laughs, and they do so with a free-willing slapstick fever.   

Most importantly - and in closing - THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT props up Cage in peak frenzied freak-out mode, not to mention that he essentially has to play multiple versions of himself in one movie: The depressed and jobless actor, the movie star turned actual action hero, and the ghostly apparition of his younger self that seems like he's always done a line of cocaine before haunting the actor's subconscious.  There's a lot of Easter Eggs and references to Cage's film catalogue as a whole, but I was taken in with how Cage is able to throw Hollywood vanity to the ground and partake in this film's outlandish shenanigans with a welcoming flair of self-deprecating awareness as to where he has been and where he is now in his storied and troubled career.  THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT is both a razor sharp and rock solid industry satire and spoof of celebrity egotism, but it doesn't succumb to viciously mock its targets, namely Cage himself.  It's a loving, clever, and delightful tribute that allows for viewers to laugh with and at the actor, and that's a delicate dichotomy to achieve. 

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