Nicolas Cage appears to have a great time spoofing his career in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” but unlike many movies about Hollywood, audiences should have tons of fun too. Flanked by a very funny Pedro Pascal, the movie nearly buckles under its own weight at times but possesses enough goofy charm to validate this breezy exercise in Cage unleashed.
Cage actually plays a character named Nick Cage, but the clips from his movies judiciously sprinkled throughout dispense with any doubts about who this is supposed to be, even if he’s playing (hopefully) an exaggerated version of himself.
As for other cinematic touchstones, Cage states or is told more than once that he’s a movie star, not an actor, echoing Peter O’Toole’s swashbuckling star in “My Favorite Year,” which certainly qualifies as good company even if the film doesn’t scale those heights.
Directed and co-written by Tom Gormican (who has one other feature to his credit), the film requires Cage to be an extremely good sport, introducing him as a nearly washed-up star missing what he keeps describing as the possible role of a lifetime. His ex-wife (Sharon Horgan) and teenage daughter (Lily Sheen) both do a lot of eye-rolling around him, speaking to past slights thanks to his actorly self-absorption.
Living out of a hotel and in need of cash, Cage grudgingly agrees to attend the birthday party of a wealthy superfan in Spain for a hefty payout, despite being miserable at the prospect. But said fan, Javi (Pascal), brings plenty of baggage to the situation as the known head of a crime cartel, with a pair of US government agents (Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz, both underemployed) on his tail.
Cage thus gets a chance to live out the espionage-type roles he’s played for real, a scenario he approaches with method zeal and no small amount of terror. The undercover work is further complicated by the fact that he bonds with Javi, sharing not only a love for movies (and not incidentally, him) but similar tastes that Javi brings to his dream of working with Cage, triggering amusing debates about whether there’s still room to develop a true character-driven drama.
What really makes the movie work is that interplay between the leads, balancing their macho posturing, respective neediness and the unlikely friendship that emerges out of that mix. Pascal also gets to show off a lighter side that he recently exhibited to less successful effect in Netflix’s “The Bubble” (a much worse movie), creating a desire to see the Mandalorian shed his tough-guy shell more often.
As for Cage, his full-throated performance (literally, given the amount of screaming that he does) hilariously embraces an image of celebrity narcissism, best exemplified by his stunned-into-silence reaction when he sees Javi’s life-sized replica of him, right before he offers to buy it.
Like its title, “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” becomes a little too much of a good thing down the stretch, but by then, it has amassed enough goodwill to close the deal. And while there might be limited theatrical appetite these days for the character-driven movie that Nick and Javi yearn to make, there ought to be some room for this.
“The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” premieres April 22 in US theaters. It’s rated R.