Few actors are as evocative in name alone as Nicolas Cage, as a mere mention of him results in a wide variety of images immediately popping into fans' minds. Whether you remember his time in '90s blockbusters like Face/Off, The Rock, and Con-Air or his bevy of straight-to-video adventures or his more recent acclaim in independent efforts like Mandy and Pig, the actor has defined himself by being indefinable. The mere thought that Cage, who revels in delivering the unexpected, would be playing a somewhat stylized version of himself for The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent felt like the type of project only Cage could pull off, though ran the risk of being as effective as something along the lines of Snakes on a Plane, where the concept alone is more compelling to the Internet than the execution. The end result is an experience that is elevated by the inclusion of Cage and heightened by the absurdity of him playing himself, even if it can't avoid falling into the underwhelming trajectories of mainstream action-comedies.
Feeling like he's at a professional crossroads, Nicolas Cage (Cage) considers leaving acting behind for good, only to be offered an impressive fee if he travels to Europe to attend the birthday party of one of his biggest fans, Javi (Pedro Pascal). What starts as an easy paycheck turns into a drug-fueled adventure involving kidnappings, the CIA, and self-introspection for the infamous performer.
Given that the premise of the film could have rested on its laurels of absurdity, the biggest gamble of Massive Talent is that it might have been nothing more to audiences than "Nicolas Cage Memes: The Movie." The opening scenes of the film, unfortunately, deliver on these fears, as we see Cage going to outlandish lengths to deliver an impromptu monologue at a crowded restaurant as other characters watch Con-Air, remarking on how amazing the actor is. After these initial stumbles, the film starts to expand and, once its supporting cast is introduced, the entire endeavor is elevated.
Much like Cage, Pascal has also become somewhat of a living meme and internet darling, yet with his acclaim being almost entirely devoid of any irony (unlike many Cage "fans") and is a response to his authenticity both on- and off-screen, that genuineness carries the weight of the massive presence. Almost immediately after Nick and Javi meet on screen, Cage and Pascal's chemistry is palpable and entirely devoid of sarcasm, delivering audiences scene after scene of adorable exchanges. Add performers to the ensemble like Tiffany Haddish, Ike Barinholtz, and Neil Patrick Harris, and the whole cast gets to take turns delivering hilarious lines that don't at all rely on the varied career of Cage.
While the draw for many audiences might be to see Cage play Cage, what the film proves with its first two acts is that this element is one of the less interesting components of the project. Were Cage to have been playing a fictional celebrity that Javi was a huge fan of, the overall narrative would likely have followed a similar path, with all of the performers delivering quips that are just as funny even without any reference to Cage himself. One of the funnier sequences involves Cage getting to show off his physical-comedy chops when a covert objective goes awry, which isn't at all heightened by remembering that Cage is playing Cage. In fact, it even makes us wonder if the story could have been even funnier without the metatextual elements, as it wouldn't have the advantage of the built-in surrealism of a performer playing an exaggerated version of themselves.
On the other end of that metatextual spectrum, the final act of the film falters and ultimately descends into territory explored in countless other action-comedies from recent years, with even Cage and Pascal failing to elevate the material. The resolution of the story largely feels underwhelming enough that it squanders all the good faith it earned by not making countless cheap jokes at Cage's expense, with even relatively explosive sequences feeling quite flat.
Even with all the steam the film loses for much of its final act, its final scenes do manage to remind us about what makes the project, and Cage himself, such a success. Regardless of whatever decisions he has made in his career or with any of his performances, both the fictionalized version and actual version of Cage is still just an actor with a job and a family and personal identity, bringing with it challenges and rewards. If anyone in any career is merely distilled to their lowest points or decisions they regret, preconceived notions make it easy to forget all of a person's successes and triumphs. After 40 years in the business, Cage, like Massive Talent itself, fails to be content with previous accomplishments and continues to tell stories of compelling or unconventional characters, most of which deliver joy and entertainment to audiences. While some audiences might celebrate Cage and embrace the "so bad it's good" caveat to the delight they experience, Massive Talent and Cage show us that there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure: You get to love what you love without a hint of irony and, if there's judgment from outside sources, that's more indicative of them than of you.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent isn't just a celebration of Cage's career, it's a celebration of cinema, with those highlights made all the richer by Cage's kinetic performance as not just one, but two versions of himself. The actor reminds us how immensely watchable he is in any project, as even when a film's material might fail him, though Cage himself rarely does. The overall endeavor might end up taking an unexpected path towards an expected destination, but the joy of the journey ends up outweighing those frustrations.0comments
Rating: 4 out of 5
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent hits theaters on April 22nd.