Review: The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Nicolas Cage in the action-movie metaverse.


Why do we love Nicolas Cage? How could we not? Like the protagonist of Drive Angry, one of his many bad-or-at-leastbaddish latter-day movies (it's the one in which he survives an encounter with Amber Heard), Nic has gone to Hell and back for us, returning each time with at least a few scorched crumbs of entertainment, sometimes more. Last year alone he gave us three new films. One, Prisoners of the Ghostland, a hookup with Japanese cult director Sion Sono, was a sort of horror western, and quite awful. Another, Willy's Wonderland, a kind ofanimatronic slasher flick in which Nic played the janitor at a demon-infested funhouse, was at the very least not dull. And the third, Pig, a sweet tale about a backwoods truffle hermit, was a reminder to never, ever write Nic Cage off.

Nic's latest, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, is a reminder to keep remembering that.Written by two Nic nerds, Kevin Etten and Tom Gormican (who also directed), Unbearable Weight uses the highs and otherwise of Cage's 40-year film career and the gaudy financial tribulations of his personal life to concoct a shoot-and-shout action movie of the sort in which the actor himself once loomed large at the world box office (think Con Air, Face/Off, The Rock, etc.). It's not baddish.  

The "Nick Cage" we meet here is a desperate character. His once-plentiful big-league movie gigs have dried up and he's also broke—well, Hollywood broke. We can read between the lines here, knowing from nonstop tabloid reports over the past decade or so that Cage was persuaded by rumblings from the IRS, to which he owed multimillions of dollars, to divest himself of many of his most onerous possessions—the Bavarian castle, the Caribbean island, the collection of Rolls-Royces, the various yachts, the Gulfstream jet. And also to start cranking out bad movies back-to-back-to-back, many of them spewed straight into the maw of VOD streaming.

This is the point at which we encounter "Nick" in Unbearable Weight. This version of the actor drinks a little too much and has an alienated teenage daughter (Lily Mo Sheen) and a still-caring ex-wife (Sharon Horgan). He also has an agent (an amusingly soulless Neil Patrick Harris) who keeps pointing out that Nick has been making too many small-time movies, and not enough money from them. However, a potentially lucrative offer has just come in—a request from a billionaire superfan to attend his birthday party on the sunny Spanishisland of Mallorca, in the flesh, for a very cool $1 million. Cage has little choice but to accept.

Upon Nick's arrival on the island, where he's greeted by two bumbly CIA agents (Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz), the movie begins turning into a traditional tale of international intrigue. The spooks tell Nick that his birthday-boy host, Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal), is an international arms dealer who needs to be taken down. Nick becomes conflicted about this, since Javi turns out to be a sweet guy—and such a huge Nick Cage fan! He's even turned one room of his swank clifftop home into an elaborate Nick Cage temple, filled with photos and memorabilia. ("Is that the Mandy chainsaw?" Nick asks, being shown around.) Unfortunately, Javi also has an idea for a movie, and he's already written a script, and of course he wants Nick to read it and see if…you know.

The structure of the story allows for a steady stream of Cage movie references, from Gone in 60 Seconds and National Treasure to Captain Corelli's Mandolin and the incomparable Wicker Man ("Not the bees!").There's also a running Paddington 2 gag that eventually pays off quite cutely without making us choke.

Limited by the lack of a true money-burning blockbuster budget, the filmmakers nevertheless do a creditable job on the requisite car chases and explosions and longform bullet blizzards, although little of it quite rises to the level of its big-time cinematic models. Which doesn't matter, actually. The real story here is the affectionate friendship between Nick and Javi—and the comedic ease with which Cage and Pascal swat their genial comedic lines back and forth. We can see that "Nick" is having fun—and maybe Nic, too: "Spycraft, subterfuge—I can see me doin' more of this."