It’s certainly not a frequent occurrence, but when performers are cast in prominent roles as themselves in live-action movies, there is usually some tweaking involved. It’s not them but fictionalized versions of them, such as John Malkovich in “Being John Malkovich,” Bill Murray in “Zombieland,” and Neil Patrick Harris in the “Harold & Kumar” franchise. Up until now (to my knowledge, at least), no actor has played the lead character in any such a movie before and, after watching Nicolas Cage do so here, I believe it is something few, if any other actor could convincingly pull off.
In the too-busy titled “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” [TUWOMT], Cage plays Nick Cage, an actor who, try as he might to hide it, is becoming increasingly desperate and has his heart set on what he thinks will be the dream role that will salvage his sagging career.
He presses director David Gordon Green (as himself) too hard and doesn’t get the part. In order to get some quick, much needed cash, he takes the advice of his agent Richard (ironically, Harris) and agrees to attend the birthday party of one of his biggest fans for $1 million.
That fan is Javi (Pedro Pascal), an olive magnate living the high life on the island of Mallorca in Spain. He is obsessed with Cage but hides it well, at least for a while. Javi doesn’t fawn, but he is in awe, something that Cage seems to appreciate if not fully embrace. After a brief and slightly bumpy getting-to-know-you stretch, the two men slip into an authentic mutual-admiration bromance and Cage is on the way to his easiest-ever paycheck.
Things get interesting when CIA agent Vivian (Tiffany Haddish) plants a GPS device on Cage in order to make it easier to capture Javi, whom she and her partner Martin (Ike Barinholtz) have identified as an international arms dealer.
The agents kidnap Cage, tell him about Javi, and lean on him to infiltrate the private quarters of Javi’s estate during the party in order to snare some electronic dirt needed in order to take him into custody. As this is a farce or parody flick starring Nicolas Cage as (kind of) himself playing a semi-unwitting spy, this scenario isn’t as far-fetched as it might appear, but it’s close.
A Rewrite or 2 Was Needed
The screenplay by director Tom Gormican (“That Awkward Moment”) and co-writer Kevin Etten is entirely serviceable but feels as if it is one or two drafts away from being great. The film isn’t laugh-out-loud the whole way through as the trailers indicate, nor is it nearly as “action-y” as it half-heartedly tries to become.
Weaving itself in and out of the narrative the entire time is a subplot involving Cage’s teen daughter Addy (Lily Sheen, the child of Kate Beckinsale and Michael Sheen) and his amiable Irish ex-wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan). Again, this portion of the story could have been excellent with a few more nips and tucks.
The arguable high points in the movie involve exchanges between Cage and Nicky, who is a younger, imaginary version of himself, circa “Valley Girl,” “Peggy Sue Got Married,” “Raising Arizona,” “Birdy,” or “Wild At Heart.” Thanks to a CGI-enhanced “de-aging” process similarly employed by Martin Scorsese in “The Irishman,” Nicky represents Cage’s more commercially concerned alter ego—the boisterous, unchecked, young-buck upstart unaware of the future roles (“Leaving Las Vegas,” “Joe,” “Pig,” and even “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”) that would make clear Cage’s stealthy ability to navigate between Hollywood pap and art-house prestige projects.
The Story Within a Story
Also interesting is a thread involving a mystery screenplay penned by Javi, which was submitted to Richard who summarily threw it away instead of passing it along to Cage. Not until the last five minutes of the film is the full scope of the story clear: It recalls similar twists found in Robert Altman’s “The Player” and Barry Sonnenfeld’s “Get Shorty.”
Weak-ish Fan Service
Make no mistake, “TUWOMT’ is essential, mandatory viewing for all Cage fans and is well worth the investment of time and money. For anyone else looking for something off the beaten path, which also takes a hearty swipe at low-hanging fruit Hollywood tropes, it’ll work, just not as well as it should.
During the pre-wide-release screening of the film, I counted only about a dozen or so references to the over 100 previous Cage films (some of them more than once) and was slightly disappointed with that relatively low number and the fleeting acknowledgment.
Having a guy with such a devoted fan base and varied résumé like Cage agree to participate in this unique type of production and not dive deep down into his cinematic rabbit hole was a huge missed opportunity.
What we’re left with in the end is a pretty good and underachieving movie that should have been great.
‘The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent’
Director: Tom Gormican
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Pedro Pascal, Neil Patrick Harris, Tiffany Haddish, Ike Barinholtz, Lily Sheen
Running Time: 1 hour, 47 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Release Date: April 22, 2022
Rating: 3.5 out of 5