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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent Is an Enormous Waste of Nicolas Cage’s Talent

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.
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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.

Read more reviews by Stephanie Zacharek

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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