The internet loves Nicholas Cage playing Nicholas Cage. The internet also loves thirsting over Pedro Pascal in, well, basically anything. So, Tom Gormican's star-studded The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent should be a home-run, right?
A hit with the critics but a box-office flop, read on to see what our writers had to say...
I’ve done no research for this. I don’t like reading reviews before I see a film – yes, I acknowledge the hypocrisy. Yes, I’m still going to write this. You’re right, I’m probably going to hell… which, I was convinced for a while, might easily be defined as being forced to watch Knowing on a loop. I accepted this review, having learned more than I should hope many people will have to, about what hell feels like. In the midst of bereavement after two, wickedly untimely funerals in three months, I’ve lost my dad and I’ve lost a friend, that I will never have said “I love you” to enough – even if you gave me 10 years in a room with them saying nothing but “I love you.”
So, you know what? I am here for Nicholas Cage and the absolute sensation that is Pedro Pascal standing on the brink of death and yelling “I love you!” It’s beyond time for two leading men to swap shoes and yell “I love you!”
I went into this one with little experience of Nicholas Cage beyond having unwittingly sat through 2009 film Knowing (don’t), and youtubing his Wogan appearance, (do! Absolutely, do!). Those two sides of the persona – inexhaustibly troped up to the eyeballs; totally self-aware (or is he?) - were the measure of the man. And, as it turns out, they combine spectacularly in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.
Basic run-down: Nick Cage is Nick Cage – A complex blur of man and myth, divorcing his wife, at odds with his teenage daughter, on whom he imposes his own personality to the point that she lives in terror of being disliked if she disagrees with him. In debt and ready to quit, he takes the one last job; a birthday party appearance for the super-rich Mallorcan Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal); aspiring screenwriter; also on the CIA’s most wanted list. After being recruited by a very under-utilized Tiffany Haddish to spy on Javi’s suspected misdeeds, Cage must resolve his competing allegiances whilst completing a screenplay unfolding in real time. Cue one hour and thirty-eight minutes of hilarity, espionage, gunplay and character-driven adult drama… sounds like a Nicholas Cage movie right?
I refuse to do spoilers, but it cannot be over-stated how important the relationship between the two male protagonists is, and how quickly and expertly it’s executed and maintained. The emotional truth in Javi’s backstory about bonding over films with a dying father was not lost on me, much as the backhanded comedic tone will not be lost on other viewers. And while we’re supposed to laugh, I suppose, at the pastiche of Javi standing at a cliff edge telling Nick that his gift brings light to an increasingly dark world… the fact of the matter is, this time it really has.
Its self-aware jibes take a very literal turn as Nick addresses his inner-self. It also reads a little like a ‘Dear John’ letter to toxic-masculinity-turned-movie-star narcissism - which is, we must assume, inherent in every Hollywood legend. The quest for emotional depth aside, it is beautifully lampooned here and I love it.
The bit I couldn’t handle was the inevitable descent into car chases and extended peril. Yes, it was aware it what it was doing, but it took too long about it and left the comedy (literally) at the roadside. So, the cynical flag-waving crescendo moment fell flat and didn’t feel like the parody it was intended to be. You can’t call out the mistake and then continue to make it.
All that being said, as I sat there overthinking I could still hear my dad saying “it’s a film, Lois! Just watch the film!” So I shut up and, at the final shot, promptly burst into tears. My take away? Watch every film your dad watches and let him talk about every detail for as long as it takes. And don’t just say “I love you.” Wave two golden guns in the air and yell it like “Nick fuckiiiiiing Caaaaage.”
I’m sat staring at my blank computer screen. It’s been nearly an hour since the credits rolled. I’ve typed nothing. Instead I’m asking myself, “should they have got someone else other than Nicolas Cage to play Nicolas Cage?”
The premise is intriguing, albeit unoriginal. With any other actor as the lead you’d keep swiping, but the promise of him courageously cannibalising his career on camera… even Michael Jordan hasn’t had an easier slam-dunk.
Where Cage should’ve been this film’s superpower, he ends up being its kryptonite. Director Tom Gormican tries to draw out the nuanced actor, rather than the scenery chewing “f*@#ing movie star”. The question ‘which is the real Cage?’ being the film’s main conceit.
Well, until it’s sabotaged by an unnecessary spy plot that sends it screaming into a straight-to-video, full-blown, buddy comedy, squandering the film’s chance to play in the same league of fellow Cage-starrer Adaptation or something like Inside the Mind of John Malkovich. The result – like Cage’s career lately – is a patchy, meh, affair. One that ultimately collapses under the unbearable weight of massive expectation.
Once the plot shifts, the film stops being a self-aware, sly nod at his public image (which is what I dug about it), and instead starts to feel like Cage isn’t even in on the joke, and you’re laughing at - not with - him. As soon as it happens, I wish Gormican would’ve let the 1990s icon eat large - like Arnold Schwarzenegger did in Last Action Hero. Instead he, well, cages him. If we learnt anything from Cage’s turn as Spiderman Noir in Into The Spider-Verse, it’s that - with the right material and strong directing - giving Cage’s reins some slack can absolutely be the way to go.
Gormican should’ve dialled up or doubled down the meta weirdness - depending on your view. Why didn’t more of Cage’s previous characters turn up? Instead, we just got several visits by Sailor from Wild At Heart? (By the way, Disney, if you can’t afford to digitally de-age your actors, don’t bother. I actually Googled whether they’d just stuck a wig on Lee Pace).
Nobody else emerges well from this movie. Despite early promise, Sharon Horgon is wasted. Neil Patrick Harris came as a watered-down version of How I Met Your Mother’s Barney Stinson. And Pedro Pascal clearly didn’t learn anything from Wonder Woman 1984 when it came to comedy. Although if you haven’t seen it, YouTube his turn hosting SNL. I’d so watch a The Last of Us inspired adaptation of Mario Kart…
…Sorry, my mind wandered. It did the same during the movie.
All told, the script was weak on action, on laughs, and lacked the balls to push that original concept of questioning who we really are when it matters most, to the people who matter most. That, coupled with unsure direction, left the talented cast nowhere to go.
Not even Con-Air’s Cameron Poe could’ve landed this predictable, meandering movie safely. An amusing way to spend an hour-and-a-bit, but forgettable. One script that should’ve been put back in the box.
I’ll be honest - I’m not much of a Nicholas Cage fan. I’ve seen a few of his films obviously, but he’s not an actor I normally seek out. However, when I heard that the premise of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent was Cage playing himself, I was intrigued. It felt like an interesting concept and overall it was, even if you’ve not yet reached Javi levels of Nicholas Cage obsession.
For me, the main highlight of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is Pedro Pascal’s performance as Javi, a Nick-Cage-superfan-slash-arms-dealer. I hadn’t seen Pascal do comedy before this, and was surprised at how funny I found his performance. There is a deadpan earnestness about his character - particularly in the scene where he shows off his Nic Cage memorabilia - that Pascal nails perfectly.
While the humour of Javi comes from him taking his Nick Cage obsession incredibly seriously, the film itself embraces its ridiculousness. It knows how stupid the concept of Nicholas Cage working with the CIA is, and it revels in it. This is what makes the film enjoyable to watch; it’s bright and it’s fun, featuring high stakes car chases and tearful viewings of Paddington Two, and what more do you need from a film, really?
This isn’t to say that The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a perfect film. While it does Nicholas Cage’s career in an interesting way, the young ‘Nicky Cage’ hallucination - credited as Nicholas Kim Coppola, Cage’s real name - was a strange choice. While Nicky represents Cage’s feelings of being past the peak of his career, it felt removed from the rest of the film and served mainly as a lazy device for Cage to spew exposition at the audience. Worse than laziness, however, is the fact that it simply wasn’t funny. If you’re going to have a failing actor hallucinate a more successful version of himself that he yells at in public, go hard or go home.
Some jokes in the film also grew very tired very fast. In particular, the jokes about Nicholas Cage’s career. In the first twenty minutes of the film, there are multiple jokes about how Cage will accept any role, which leant heavily on the ‘nudge-nudge-wink wink’ factor, as if Cage was in front of you, pointing at a billboard that reads ‘I AM MAKING FUN OF MYSELF.’ There was also (for me at least) too many references to old Nicholas Cage films. I’m sure that, for people who are bigger Nicholas Cage fans than me, watching Cage recreate iconic scenes from his old films was a highlight, but to me it came across as gratuitous and self-indulgent.
Overall, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent was an fun film, even if parts of it weren’t my exact sense of humour. While Cage delivered an incredible performance, Pedro Pascal’s Javi was the most enjoyable part of this film for me. If you’re looking for a film that doesn’t shy away from its own absurdity, I would recommend checking it out.