Now 58, with nearly 100 film credits since he was “Brad’s bud” in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” in 1982, Nicolas Cage has handled a lion’s share of money grabs in a career distinguished by a gratifying number of movies worth seeing, often just for him. Good material, bad material, big-budget studio clangers, low-budget indies on wry: The man does not coast.
The central gag in the occasionally funny action-comedy “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” imagines Cage, playing a variation on himself named Nick Cage at a career impasse.
Divorced, with a tenuous, tetchy relationship with a (fictional) teenage daughter played by Lily Mo Sheen, the movie’s version of Cage has run up a $600,000 tab at a fancy Los Angeles hotel and needs a job. His agent, Fink (Neil Patrick Harris), comes through with a prospect: For a cool, gallingly easy million, his client is to attend a superrich Cage fan’s birthday party on the island of Mallorca, Spain. There Cage will be the special guest star, required only to small-talk about his career, get some sun and sweat his future.
Jovial, star-struck Javi, the Cage fanatic played by a movie-improving Pedro Pascal, has been identified by CIA operatives played by Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz (both sold short by the plot) as an international gunrunning murderer in a known family of criminals. Cage becomes a double agent of sorts, helping out the American intelligence experts while getting to know, and genuinely like, his host, who happens also to have an idea for a Cage screenplay.
You could get a good, brash lark out of that premise. “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is roughly 38% good, and not brash or satiric enough. The bits that got me laughing had nothing — and I mean nothing — to do with the increasingly dominant action-thriller machinery. My favorite is a sidewinding minute or two with Nick and Javi, tripping on LSD, sitting on a bench staring, paranoid, at two people eating ice cream. It’s a familiar setup: drug-fueled panic leads to a ridiculous outcome. But watching Cage and Pascal play off each other is a treat. There’s a sweetness to their relationship that makes up for whole sections of a routinely shot, awkwardly edited project.
Co-written (with Kevin Etten) and directed by sophomore feature filmmaker Tom Gormican, “Unbearable Weight” name-checks like a maniac, dropping one-liners about Cage’s nutty resume (”Con Air” and “Guarding Tess”) while having the boy-men played by Cage and Pascal discuss the action-movie compromises they’ll have to make in the screenplay they’re writing. That joke feels like an apology for the film; self-referentiality without a twist is just settling for less. Comedies need the courage of their convictions, and the guts to forego anything that doesn’t add to the fun.
I suppose the film’s sincere bid to address the fictional Cage’s better-late-than-never awakening as a father gives “Unbearable Weight” some emotional ballast. But is it any more necessary than the beatings, shootings, climactic chases and accumulation of corpses? That’s dead weight, not ballast.
Through it all, Cage gives his all, which hardly needed saying. He takes on two roles, plus a cameo, playing “himself”; a pushy, digitally de-aged ‘90s version of himself, named “Nicky”; and a peppy, aged Italian crime boss with terrible fashion sense. Cage never stops trying things, whether its eccentric physical details (such as his wrist-spin on his juicy pronunciation of the name “Javi”) or idiosyncratically timed punchlines. He has no interest in breaking his no-laziness streak, especially in his own little “Being John Malkovich.” I suspect the Cage fans who will enjoy this movie won’t care if it’s fundamentally sloppy and lazy moviemaking. The star of the show is neither.
'The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent'
2 stars (out of 4)
MPAA rating: R (for language throughout, some sexual references, drug use and violence)
Running time: 1:47
How to watch: In theaters Friday