I feel like I’ve gone on the record more than enough times on this site in defense of Nicholas Cage.
The movies of his that I’ve explicitly covered, Mandy, The Color Out of Space, and Pig, are all amazing films because they exist in what I like to call the “Post-Cage” era. That is, the age of cinema where we’ve all sort of collectively identified and come to terms with the precise type of actor that Cage is, and have begun to tailor films specifically to those strengths. Post-Cage movies give the actor roles which are tailor-made to suit his signature brand of intense, variably-volumed lunacy. These are movies that are written for Cage, playing to his natural range as both a person and as a performer.
However, I also absolutely adore movies from the “Pre-Cage” era as well, the time when Hollywood was still kind of unsure what to do with him, and were shoving him in as many projects as they could to see what stuck. You’ve got kooky, eccentric, comedic Cage in things like Raising Arizona, quirky Rom-Com Cage in Moonstruck and Wild at Heart, and prestige-level, heart-wrenching, soul-bearing Cage in dramas like Leaving Las Vegas. I’m especially nostalgic for his streak of mid-to-late 90s high-octane action flicks, from the poetic weirdness of Face/Off, to the classic Bayhem of The Rock, all the way through the pre-Fast and Furious streetcar adrenaline of Gone in 60 Seconds. Con Air was a particular favorite in my household growing up, with my family and I still quoting Cage’s hilarious southern accent (“Put the bunny back in the box”) to this day.
It’s this era of Cage films, before he was really cemented as a living meme, that I have the most fondness for. Don’t get me wrong, I love this brave new world of self-aware, experimental indie darling Nic Cage too. But I feel like we, as a society, have started to forget the glory days of 90s Cage zaniness. Even though I largely enjoy them, his films these days have gotten a little too artsy these days, too far removed from him dancing in a priest’s robe or robbing a convenience store for diapers. I want a Nic Cage film that embraces all of his highs and lows, his 90s superstardom, his early 2000s experimental phase (Adaptation, anyone?), his National Treasure/Ghost Rider years, and, finally, his “I’ve bought seven castles and an illegal dinosaur skeleton and need money now’ period. A full celebration of his entire career. The Nicholas Cage version of Being John Malkovich.
Into the Cage-Verse.
And lo, from up on high, my prayers have been answered. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent finally released this weekend, and sweet baby Jesus, does it deliver on the exact premise I’ve been wanting all these years. I remember when I first heard about the film’s premise, way back in 2019 when it was featured on that year’s Blacklist, and thought that, while it sounded hilarious, it could be annoyingly self-indulgent if done carelessly. It would be incredibly easy to write an obnoxiously tongue-in-cheek cavalcade of Nic Cage in-jokes and movie references around a loosely strung-together plot and call it a day, and I feared that, Hollywood being the corner-cutting, low-hanging-fruit-grabbing industry that it is, this would be the most likely outcome if the film were ever greenlit for production.
Well, I’m happy to say that this isn’t the case at all.
If there’s one thing that’s surprising about The Unbearable Weight is just how bearable it really is. I was genuinely not expecting the general Cage-ness of it all to be nearly as subdued as it turned out to be, given how much his reputation is so rooted in his over-the-top nature. Sure, there’s plenty of references and in-jokes that fans of any stage in the actor’s career can appreciate. In fact, the entire first act of the film pretty much adheres to this general idea. It’s definitely the most intensely Post-Cage film to date. But all of that is just set-dressing, a backdrop to the real story at play, and the core of this film has very little to do with his memeable position in pop culture, outside of the initial set-up. And it’s all the better for it.
If you haven’t seen any trailers or promotional material for the film, which are fairly up-front about its relatively simple plot, the basic premise is this: Nicolas Cage, feeling that his Hollywood heyday has run its course, agrees to take a $1 million offer from a Spanish billionaire named Javi to attend his birthday party. When he arrives, he has a run-in with the CIA, who informs him that his host is actually a ruthless cartel boss, played by Game of Thrones, Narcos, and The Mandalorian’sPedro Pascal, who’s planning on executing the kidnapped daughter of a political rival. Cage is then shanghaied into infiltrating Javi’s compound in order to rescue the girl, all the while keeping the dangerous drug lord entertained and unsuspicious.
It’s not exactly Citizen Kane, which is good. A film like this would be shooting itself in the foot by trying to complicate itself too far beyond its central raison d’être, which in this case, is Nic Cage playing himself. It has an overall vibe of something akin to The Interview, although perhaps played a bit straighter.
This straight-forward, no-frills narrative allows for the film to focus on its real highlight, which is the relationship between Cage and Pascal. Nic Cage is Nic Cage. You know the man, you know how he acts and what a typical performance of his looks like. And here, it’s no different: You get exactly what it says on the tin. But Pascal’s performance of Javi is so endearing, so comically likeable, and so tonally pitch-perfect that it elevates Cage’s own showing far beyond his standard fare into something tremendously more engaging and captivating than we’ve seen from him in such a lighter tone before. This movie is a better romantic comedy than pretty much anything else in recent memory with an actual romance subplot, which the two leads behaving more believably like soulmates than most wannabe Romeos and Juliets could ever hope to be. Cage and Pascal play off of each other beautifully.
The majority of the first two acts are just the two men getting into zany mini-adventures and bonding with one another, all the while slowly realizing that the other is not who he appears to be. They get high on LSD, re-enact scenes from their favorite movies, and even share a tearful screening of Paddington 2. It’s a delightfully charming take on the I Love You Man/Pineapple Express “Weird Guys Become Best Friends” subgenre of comedy that has been sorely lacking in the release slate of the last few years. It’s hilarious, it’s adorable, and it’s far better than it sounds on paper.
And really, that’s a pretty good description of the film as a whole: Better than it has any right to be. I was expecting a funny, satirical takedown of Nicholas Cage’s bizarre public persona, where the entire gimmick was the presence of the actor himself. Instead, what I got was a sweet, funny bromance between two lovable goofballs where one of them just happens to be about Nic Cage.
Unfortunately, that’s also the film’s biggest weakness, if it can be said to have one. The fact that Nic Cage is Nic Cage in this really didn’t have as much relevance as I was expecting. You could probably replace him with any other actor of a similar flavor, like Keanu Reeves or maybe Owen Wilson, and it would largely be the same film. But I’m never one to complain about the inclusion of Cage in a film, so it’s a relatively minor quibble in the grand scheme of things. And in fairness, before the plot moves past the initial novelty, Cage’s reputation takes center stage in a genuine love-letter to the legendary icon’s storied career on the silver screen. I also think the third act loses a bit of the film’s charm as it descends a bit too closely into generic action-film territory, but it regains its composure before long and pulls itself together in the end in a sufficiently satisfying fashion. Again, these are extremely minor issues that in no way pull down what is otherwise a thoroughly enjoyable and endlessly fun experience.
Is The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent a life-changing, momentous film? No, not at all. But it’s a film that completely and totally delivers on everything that it promises, and for that, it has my respect and admiration.
Plus you get to see Nic Cage make out with himself. What’s not to like?
If you love Cage as much as I do, or if you just want a fun action/comedy to entertain yourself with for 100 minutes or so, you could do far, far worse than this. Go see it, if only to encourage Hollywood to keep making smart, self-aware, strange nonsense like this. We desperately need it.