To love Nicolas Cage doesn’t make you an underrepresented minority. For decades, his face on a movie poster was the key to worldwide ticket sales, though he’s more than just a global star. He has been called the finest actor of his generation, which is probably true. In his off years, he’s been jeered at as a guy who’d take any role to finance the purchase of a castle, or perhaps a choice dinosaur skull. Does he contradict himself? Very well then, he contradicts himself. He is large. He contains multitudes.
Unfortunately, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, a meta-comedy of ostensibly epic proportions, is not nearly grand enough to embrace those multitudes. Cage stars as Nick Cage, a fictional version of himself who spouts lofty ideas about acting but who’s finding it harder and harder to land gigs. He’s also having family troubles: his teenage daughter (Lily Sheen) resents him, and his impending divorce from his smart and justifiably annoyed makeup-artist wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan) has left him broke.
Fortunately, his agent (Neil Patrick Harris) has a job for him: Spanish billionaire and superfan Javi (Pedro Pascal) will pay Nick to attend the birthday party Javi’s throwing in Mallorca. Incidentally, Javi has also written a screenplay—because someone has always written a screenplay.
Nick shows up on the island, hoping to do his bit and be gone in 60 seconds. But he and Javi end up forging a warm, manly bond, over LSD and a shared love for, well, Nick Cage. Their bro time is foiled by a duo of CIA agents (Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz) who believe Javi is behind a high-profile kidnapping. Meanwhile, another version of Nick Cage—a much younger, Wild at Heart–era gonzo id with unpleasantly pearlescent CGI-de-aged skin—pops up repeatedly to remind the older Nick that he’s not a serious actor but a superstar, and he needs to start behaving like one.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, directed by Tom Gormican, who also co-wrote the script with Kevin Etten, name-checks one Nicolas Cage film after another, weaving in memorable quotes along the way. Is Face/Off your personal favorite? Represented! Are you one of those Cage completists with a fondness for Guarding Tess? Gormican’s got you! Clearly, the audience is supposed to hoot and holler every time they recognize a Cage reference, which will be often. This is less a movie for actual watching than one for making noise.
But poke beneath the aggressive fun of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, and you’ll find a depressing act of redemption that doesn’t really need to happen. The media has recently made much of how Nicolas Cage is back, after a too-long period of making not-so-hot movies for a paycheck. (Last year he gave a terrific fine-grained, hard-nosed performance in Michael Sarnoski’s small-budget Pig.) We already know that Cage—with those soulful-rabbit eyes, that voice like olivine velvet—can do just about anything. And so his willingness to join in this not particularly daring act of self-mockery should surprise no one. This is absolutely a movie For the Fans, maybe because nobody knows who to make movies for anymore. But instead of leading us to a place beyond ourselves, it only confirms our ability to identify things that gave us pleasure in the past. It’s the dinosaur skull we want, and buy, leaving greater needs unmet.
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