The recent career path of Nicolas Cage has been interesting to track, to say the least. Once renowned for his roles in hits like The Rock and Con Air, the past few years have seen him leaning towards B-movie fare. From the dismal Jiu Jitsu to the charming Willy’s Wonderland, his output has been as eclectic and fluctuating in quality as it gets, and that all comes to a head in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. It’s a film that Cage seemed destined to make, and is hugely inventive in its plotting and tongue-in-cheek approach – but that doesn’t make it a surefire hit.
Cage plays a loosely autobiographical version of himself, with a dose of self-awareness as to the quality of his recent work. Alongside his agent Richard (Neil Patrick Harris), they conclude that he’s been too focused on quantity rather than quality, with Cage so jaded that he decides to ultimately retire. That is, until his debts stack up and he’s offered $1 million, simply for attending the birthday of wealthy socialite Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal). When the CIA get involved and tap Cage up for help in a kidnapping sting, though, is when things go awry.
It’s a plot that sounds laced with self-awareness, and that’s testament to the brazen screenplay at work. Screenwriters Kevin Etten and Tom Gormican, the latter of whom also directs, had to ask Cage more than three times to give the script a chance, and there’s simply no way that any other star would work with this material. It’s perfectly attuned to his recent career path, with his stock ultimately dropping following B-movie after B-movie. Cage plays this fictional version of himself with candour too, at times acknowledging the lacklustre films he’s been in, but also paying tribute to the iconic performances he’s produced over his career. Look out for some brilliant sight gags and callbacks to Cage’s most memorable moments.
Simply put, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent wouldn’t work at all if not for this brilliant concept at play. Oozing with irony and self-awareness, it’s the sort of meta storytelling that’s rife at the moment, and this film is one of the more successful examples of it. That even bleeds into its commentary on Hollywood as a whole, with contemporary audiences favouring stories that they can almost predict beforehand – as seen through Javi’s desire to meticulously plot each element of their fictional script, bearing a striking resemblance to events that occur throughout the film.
While that ironic storytelling is certainly a charming gimmick, it doesn’t necessarily translate to a hit movie. The narrative definitely gets lost in the layers of satire it puts out there, mimicking traditional action movie tropes while also adhering to them rather stringently. A kidnapped daughter forcing the hero back into action? Check. A dramatic stand-off at gunpoint? Check. Plenty of unexpected twists? Check. For all the ways it wants to poke fun at Hollywood, it doesn’t mind having its cake and eating it too.
But it’s still an undeniably fun ride, if one that you may not instantly feel the need to go back to. The gimmick certainly works its charm the first time around, and it’s hard to think of a film more suited to Nicolas Cage than this. In fact, predicting what roles he’ll take after this becomes increasingly hard. After all, he can’t poke fun at his straight-to-DVD output and resume that line of work straight after. His chemistry with Pascal is something to marvel at too. They bounce off each other and form a strong bond throughout, with the Mandalorian frontman once again proving his chops in both comedic and dramatic roles.
Nonetheless, it’s rare to see a leading man gel with a script quite like in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. It doesn’t get everything right, but it’s a much more successful attempt at meta storytelling and tongue-in-cheek satire than most other films of its kind. The plot isn’t something to write home about, and it heads down a fairly rudimentary path once you suss out the story beats, but the sheer strength of its premise make it worth a watch. You’ll never see a movie star poke quite this much fun at themselves, and there’s nobody better to revel in the tongue-in-cheek fun than Nicolas Cage.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is on digital 8 July & Steelbook, 4K UHD, Blu-ray & DVD 11 July