Nicolas Cage is the perfect actor for the age of the meme. His long career and expressive performance style have made him a mainstay of internet culture, arguably since he starred in the widely-mocked remake of The Wicker Man in 2006. To set foot on the internet in 2022 is to understand you’re never more than a few clicks away from a Nic Cage gif, be it of his luscious locks blowing in the breeze in Con Air or posing as a mad priest in the opening of Face/Off. These images, shorn from their context, have given the impression of Cage as some gurning maniac who makes a lot of movies, most of which are not very good.
Of course, any seasoned scholar of Cage will tell you this is a poor representation of the career he’s had, spanning some 40 years and just about every genre you can think of. He’s one of the hardest working men in Hollywood, and throughout the memes, direct-to-DVD clangers and tabloid headlines, has maintained an admirable commitment to his craft. The release of Tom Gormican’s The Unberable Weight of Massive Talent draws on the mythos of Cage, as he plays a lightly-fictionalised version of himself, who – short on funds – takes a personal appearance gig at a shady billionaire’s birthday party.
It’s surprising that the film didn’t come sooner, considering the enduring popularity of Cage, but the timing couldn’t be better considering the hot streak he’s been on in recent years, with Mandy and Pig widely considered two of his finest performances to date. Drawing on the mythos of Cage, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent plays as a sort of greatest hits package, referencing past roles including Wild at Heart, Leaving Las Vegas, and uh, The Croods 2.
This nostalgia trip is packaged within a fairly rote action-comedy plot, in which drug baron and Cage superfan Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal) comes a cropper of his menacing cousin Lucas (Paco León) while CIA agents Vivian (Tiffany Haddish) and Martin (Ike Barinholtz) try to recruit Cage to spy on Javi for them.
The film clearly comes from a place of love, designed to appeal to Cage fans who enjoy being able to pick out the various overt or covert reference to his vast filmography, and the chemistry between Cage and Pascal is easy and enjoyable. It’s far from the worst material that Cage has ever sold us on-screen, but it still feels like this self-consciously meta film misses the mark in capturing what makes him such a compelling figure within Hollywood mythos.
The whistle-stop tour of Cage references tends towards his most famous roles rather than some Nic deep cuts. Most glaring is the decision to have ‘Nicky’ (the figment of Cage’s imagination who appears as Sailor Ripley to give his real-life counterpart career advice) dressed in a Wild at Heart t-shirt, as if the film doesn’t quite trust audiences to understand the film that is being referenced. While Con Air and Face/Off might be fan favourites, these references do feel a little overdone. Similarly, a recurring joke about Paddington 2 feels like it was designed purely to be screenshotted and posted on Twitter – one of the more heinous crimes a film can commit in the modern age.
While it’s high time Cage got some recognition for his graft, there’s nothing in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent that one couldn’t learn from reading the recent spate of insightful Cage profiles, or even better, his delightful Reddit AMA, which reveals Cage as a thoughtful cinephile who dreams of playing Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo. This personality feels muted in the film, which is curious given its positioning as the ultimate celebration of every Nicolas Cage.
It’s an easy watch – even a mostly enjoyable one, thanks to the great time Cage and Pascal are clearly having – but the dialogue stumbles into cheesy territory more often than not, and overall it feels like a missed opportunity to make a bolder statement about the ruthlessness of the Hollywood machine, or indeed Cage’s enduring celebrity. Nevertheless, if it inspires audiences to seek out The Vampire’s Kiss or Adaptation, it won’t have been in vain.
Always up for some Cage action. 3
A fun premise with underwhelming execution. 3
Enjoyable enough, but hardly Peak Cage. 3
Nicolas Cage, Pedro Pascal, Sharon Horgan
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