The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent Is Lovingly Made for Sloppy-Sweet Fans Only

The real-life Nicolas Cage has long since embraced the loony, overacting, movie star persona fostered by young, social media–savvy fans who’ve generated a million memes in his honor — and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a gift to them.

Nicolas Cage playing himself in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. (Lionsgate)

Nicolas Cage and Pedro Pascal are a winning team in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, a daffy, good-natured, action-packed bro-mantic comedy. Pascal is especially adorable as puppy-like Spanish billionaire Javier “Javi” Gutierrez, who worships his idol Nicolas Cage and offers a million dollars to have him attend his birthday party at his fabulous seaside villa in Majorca. The possibility that Gutierrez may also be the head of a mob family whose main business is international arms dealing will complicate matters.

The key comic conceit is that Nicolas Cage plays himself, as hilariously self-absorbed actor “Nick Cage” (extra “k” to fictionalize “Nic Cage,” according to the screenwriters), who is struggling to keep his foundering career going. This single-minded endeavor isn’t only due to his need to share with the world his seriously “nouveau-shamanic acting ability.” It’s not even solely to placate his badgering imaginary alter ego, the lithe, leather-clad, floppy-haired “Nicky,” a monstrously CGIed version of the youthful Cage from his Wild at Heart era, who’s all about maintaining the old fabulous level of fame and punctuates his brutal pep talks with the screech, “You are Nick FUCKIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIN’ YAHOW Cage!”

The other motivations include the fact that — because he lives way beyond his means — he’s desperately in debt.

(We know the point about massive indebtedness is true about the real-life Cage, who has blown several fortunes in his lifetime on, among other things, fifteen lavish homes, including two European castles and three private islands; more than fifty fabulously expensive cars, including the late shah of Iran’s Lamborghini; four yachts; a rare Tyrannosaurus bataar dinosaur skull, and a massive, nine-foot-tall, pyramid-shaped tombstone in the oldest cemetery in New Orleans, where the actor intends to be buried. In fact, the actual Nicolas Cage is so improbable a character that a biographically accurate movie would be harder to believe than this crazy comical adventure tale.)

There are also the familial problems of his fed-up ex-wife, Olivia (Sharon Horgan), and alienated daughter, Addy (Lily Sheen, who’s actually the product of Hollywood inbreeding as the daughter of Kate Beckinsale and Michael Sheen). They consider Nick Cage an embarrassing loser for all of the above reasons.

Stir into this humiliating mix the loss of a major career-saving role he’d auditioned hard for in the valet parking area of the Chateau Marmont for befuddled director David Gordon Green (playing himself), and Nick Cage is ready to announce to his manipulative agent (Neil Patrick Harris) that he is:

A) giving up acting forever, and

B) prepared to take the billionaire-birthday-party offer.

But the unexpected bonding of Nick and Javi in Majorca changes everything. Nick winds up collaborating on Javi’s script — which is designed to be a starring vehicle for Nicolas Cage, of course — by dropping acid and exploring their innermost feelings, among other methods, comprising the film’s funny second act. Their therapeutic idyll is complicated by the intrusive agenda of two CIA agents (played by Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz) who are investigating the Gutierrez mob’s kidnapping of the Catalan president’s daughter in order to swing the election against the candidate running on an anti-crime ticket. Nick gets roped into trying out the role of actor-as-spy to bring down his friend. In the end, he has to run through a number of scenarios resembling his various action movies in order to save Javi, his family, and himself from disaster.

The movie has plenty of plot that gets wackier every minute, which doesn’t really matter because the whole fun of it involves watching Nicolas Cage performing an enjoyably absurd version of his own life as a star, abetted by Pedro Pascal as the ultimate superfan. The real-life Cage has long since embraced the loony, overacting, “Age of Cage” Frankenstein’s monster of a movie star persona fostered by young social media–savvy fans who’ve generated a million memes in his honor — and this film is a gift to them. But the Nick character within the film is far more edgy and diffident about the weirdness of his own fame, his adenoidal voice wavering uncertainly when thanking people who rave about the profoundly meaningful impact on their lives of his 1994 comedy Guarding Tess, or who want to hug him and take selfies with him because he did such supreme voice work in The Croods: A New Age.

He’s stunned when he’s confronted with Javi’s shrine to all things Nicolas Cage, which takes up an entire secret room, and particularly poleaxed by the “deeply disturbing” life-size replica of Cage as homicidal nutcase Castor Troy in John Woo’s 1997 movie Face/Off, positioned with outstretched arms aiming two gold-plated guns that are supposedly the originals from the film. Just one disturbing aspect of it is that Nick wants his golden guns back.

Cage’s performance in Unbearable Weight as a hangdog “Nick Cage” in crisis is a nicely judged comic turn — but Cage always was good in comedy. His legendary insane-actor conviction, which led to those fascinating but demented “bold choices” that drove fellow actors mad at the beginning of his career, before people became accustomed to the Tao of Cage, pays off here. The demands of comedy make it easier to see that, for all his over-the-top brio, Cage has got more hard-earned precision in nailing down effects than he’s been given credit for lately, now that his name is synonymous with excess. He knows how to put a ripe spin on a punch line and invest his Method madness into some preposterous bit of business. Just watch him give his all in the tripping-balls sequence, as LSD-addled Nick and Javi, convinced they’re being pursued by undercover agents, try to scale a wall and then play out a lugubrious farewell scene when Javi can’t make it over, with Nick howling and pounding the wall in anguish.

According to director Tom Gormican, real-life Cage himself calls this scene an example of their having captured on film “the full Cage.”

The script was cowritten by Gormican and Kevin Etten, and they had no backup plan if Cage turned them down. Gormican, a Cage devotee since he first saw his “hyperbolic” performance in the Coen brothers’ comedy Raising Arizona in 1987, has essentially made a movie about the gushing joys of film fandom, saying:

We [got] Pedro Pascal to just basically say the things that we wanted to say to Nic and then watch it happen. . . . The whole movie is like an avatar for Kevin and I’s personality — we just really like Nicolas Cage. We were talking, like, “Okay, what’s the worst case scenario we’d be happy with?” And we said, “If we get to have lunch with Nicolas Cage I feel like that’s enough.” Like, “I want to have a salad with Nicolas Cage somewhere in Los Angeles, and if that’s the only thing that happens, it’s worth our time.”

So if you can’t get into the sloppy-sweet spirit of all-out film fandom, this probably isn’t the movie for you.