"KEEP BUSTIN'."

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

I’m going to start this review nice and then get all my complaints out and then be nice again. THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT is a fun movie with the irresistible gimmick that it stars Nic Cage as himself (or, I guess, “Nick Cage,” according to the credits). It’s pretty funny and kind of sweet, it allows him to refer to his “nouveau shamanic acting” process a couple times, references some of his movies, even has a de-aged and sometimes mega version of himself as his invisible spirit guide, “Nicky.” It’s a nice mainstream acknowledgment of what used to be a somewhat fringe opinion: that Nic Cage is brilliant and awesome, whether as an action star, as a work-a-day b-movie headliner, or as an eccentric weirdo.

The plot involves Cage at a low point because he’s been rejected for a role he wants really bad (directed by David Gordon Green, who wrote the foreword to Seagalogy, which means I’m two degrees from Nic Cage), he’s running out of money, and his daughter Addy (Lily Mo Sheen, UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION) and ex-wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan, GAME NIGHT) are fed up with him. So he agrees to accept an offer to attend a rich dude’s birthday party in Mallorca for a million dollars.

The rich dude is Javi (Pedro Pascal, THE GREAT WALL), who seems very nice, and is nervous about meeting Nick because he’s trying to get him to read his screenplay. Nick is understandably uncomfortable with the whole thing until they stay up late talking about movies and really hit it off. Then the next day CIA agents Vivian (Tiffany Haddish, THE CARD COUNTER) and Martin (Ike Barinholtz, SUICIDE SQUAD) pull him into a van and tell him that Javi is the leader of a dangerous arms dealing cartel that has kidnapped a politician’s daughter (Katrin Vankova) to sway an election. Though Nick doesn’t believe them about Javi, they convince him to wear a wire and spy on his new friend. Light-hearted comedy ensues, with a plot combining an undercover story and a buddy movie. Some laughs, some not very committed actions scenes, some warm friendship and learning simple lessons about family.

Cage has said that this is not much like his real life, and it doesn’t seem like it is. Obviously the whole family situation is completely fictional, basically just a character he would play in a regular movie, and the Hollywood stuff like meeting with Green doesn’t feel particularly authentic either. The one part that felt very true to me is the scene where Vivian approaches him as a fan (even though she’s just doing it to plant a bug on him). His selfie-smile and polite small talk about THE CROODS 2 seems more real than anything else in the movie.

Obviously as a big fan of Cage I can’t help but get a kick out of seeing him star as a version of himself. It at least lightly stands up for and celebrates his approach to acting, his desire to always be working, his Elvis-esque swagger (giant belt buckles, etc.) and also his straight forward appeal as an action hero. And of course as someone who adores FACE/OFF I appreciate that it’s referred to more than once. When Javi says it’s his favorite movie, Nick says, “Woo is the Maestro.” Which I can imagine being what Nic would say too.

So I appreciate the gesture. I mean – what are the chances that a movie like this would exist? Not high. So thank you. But I also think Cage is worthy of a smarter and more artful tribute than this. I trust that writer/director Tom Gormican (THAT AWKWARD MOMENT) loves and appreciates Cage’s body of work, or he wouldn’t have come up with this movie and spent years trying to get him to do it. But it seems very much like the work of somebody who likes Nic Cage but all of his friends are terrible doofuses who stare blankly when he brings it up, so he thinks he needs to hold back – that just the act of pointing out that Nic Cage is awesome is gonna be a little too out-there for the mainstream. The movie seems designed for people who haven’t given much thought to Nic Cage in years and will think, “Oh yeah! I remember CON AIR!”

Even the title kind of bothers me. It sounds outlandish, so long and ostentatious. Seems to think it’s funny to say Cage has “massive talent,” right? But obviously they think he does, know he does. So it feels like they’re pandering to the bozos who don’t. I don’t know.

I mean, if you’re doing a movie about this topic, how does VAMPIRE’S KISS not come up? Let alone DEADFALL? People don’t have to have seen them, you’re already explaining your references anyway, why not share the uncut nouveau shamanic megablast with the masses? You’re scared it’s gonna break ‘em? The reference to THE WICKER MAN is treated as an in-joke, where you’d have to know it to notice it. I think a better movie about Nic Cage would have to address his performance in that movie. Glory in it. Try to top it.

I guess I have a problem with the lack of specifics. They don’t give us a title or premise for the David Gordon Green movie Nick is trying to get a part in (though the dialogue we hear and how it comes back is funny). They also don’t give us a title or description of Javi’s screenplay, or an idea of how good or terrible it is. And though they reference, I don’t know… a little more than several of Cage’s movies, they don’t go into any detail about any of them. There is no room for deep cuts, except maybe as things seen in the background of Javi’s trophy room if we get to pause it in the future. We see the ax and chainsaw from MANDY and Javi says “MANDY is a masterpiece,” and that’s it. Castor Troy’s beautiful golden guns from FACE/OFF play an important part – they just call them the guns from FACE/OFF. Nothing else. No discussion of the movie. No quotes from the movie. The name Castor Troy is not mentioned. Of course the gun case with the Chiclets isn’t there. There are no visual references or anything. I’m not saying you gotta do all that, there are different ways to approach it. But this is the way you would approach it if you only looked up Nic Cage on Wikipedia and didn’t really know anything about him.

It’s also a little deflating of the legend of Nic Cage in that it just portrays Nick as a quirky but pretty ordinary single dad in L.A. whose career and hangups are getting in the way of connecting with his daughter. This is not the Nic Cage who lives in Las Vegas and buys castles and dinosaur skulls and has a son named Kal-El. It’s very possible that he doesn’t want to promote that image of himself, but imagine how much more fun it would make the movie!

So, this is a movie that’s trying to get your attention with the absurdity of its premise, but the execution is much more square and middle of the road than the subject matter. Luckily I got that sense from the trailers, so I had no trouble bearing the weight of mild disappointment.

I was aware of this movie for quite a while before I connected it with that long ago interview where Cage sang the praises of the movie JCVD and its performance by Jean-Claude Van Damme. In a way the two movies are similar: he and Van Damme both play themselves at a mostly fictional low point, encountering an action-movie-like scenario in the real world. For the most part, though, they are drastically different. JCVD is more high concept drama than comedy, and tries to show a very grounded Van Damme who can’t turn real life into one of his movies. UNBEARABLE WEIGHT is sillier, more about goofing around than subverting expectations or dissecting anything about movies or celebrity life. All of which are the right idea for Cage – a wild comedy is better fit for him.

But JCVD is a much better looking movie, it is a much more interestingly directed movie, what little action it has is far better executed than what we have here, and because it’s more legitimately autobiographical for Van Damme it led to a profoundly personal and vulnerable performance from him, easily one of his best. By contrast, Cage’s movie is artistically bland and unexceptional compared to the movies we love him for, and his performance is more about nodding to his previous career highlights than creating new ones.

So my misgivings are all about what the movie could’ve been, not what it is. I think it’s fair to say it’s only trying to be a pleasant movie that gives you a few smiles and laughs, and gives Nic Cage a high five and tells him “You’re the best, man! Loved you in FACE/OFF!” At that it has succeeded. I enjoyed it well enough. It’s cute. And I’m glad if it puts the final nail in people using Cage’s unique career as a punchline.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 27th, 2022 at 4:54 pm and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

19 Responses to “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent”

  1. I think you might be underselling the movie in terms of its themes, because the obvious self-referential meta nature of how the movie Nic and Javi are trying to create is influenced by what is going on adds a layer to the story that makes it about artistic expression vs. the business of making movies. Like Nic’s having the time of his life with Javi and it’s rekindling his passion in being an actor, then the CIA come in and they taint this new friendship, pressuring and obligating him to do things he doesn’t want to. You can view it as Nic and Javi are the star and writer/director, while Vivian is the producer, most obviously when she’s telling him he has to suggest adding a kidnapping plot to the story they’re developing because “people need a hook”.

    It’s also funny you bring up JCVD because it was on my mind too for obvious reasons, but I also remember that despite like that you had a disappointment that the film stuck with what it was and didn’t “break out” into more of an action movie. This movie does that, but yeah, not to the level you’d want. It’s just funny to me that you seem to be going the opposite way now. Is it possible you’ve gotten so used to Cage’s more esoteric stuff in recent years that you’ve forgotten he’s done plenty of mainstream studio things as well? The movie did cause me to seek out and watch some other Cage stuff I could get on streaming services and in the past week and I watched SNAKE EYES, both CROODS movies and the comedy TRAPPED IN PARADISE with Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey, which was kind broad, but even that has some mega moments from him in it.

  2. I like your interpretation of the meta elements. It’s a good point.

    As I tried to say in the review, it was smart to use a similar idea to JCVD except more funny and not trying to be grounded. It’s a great idea. If we could have that approach but at the filmmaking level of JCVD it could be a real gem. It turns into an “action movie” but just the half-ass comedy version of action. It doesn’t for one second have the feel of his Bruckheimer movies (as much as they are not my thing) or of course FACE/OFF.

    And yes, he has done some bland mainstream movies before, but in a celebration of his greatness and uniqueness wouldn’t it make sense to emulate his great and unique movies? I just don’t think this director is good or weird enough to know how to do that.

  3. I do fear that that the current mainstream acceptance of Cage as actually great actor, will lead to him appearing in movies by the premise “Nic Cage is in it, isn’t that awesome!?”

    Just a few days ago I watched WILLY’S WONDERLAND and it was obvious that everybody behind the scenes patted themself on the back for getting him into their movie by baiting him with a really cool part (A cool stranger with no name who doesn’t say a word, encounters the threat of possessed Chuck. E. Cheese parody characters with a shrug while he keeps killing the shit out of them, is addicted to a certain brand of energy drink and takes his pinball breaks really seriously) and then didn’t give a shit about anything else in the movie, because they thought “Hey, The Cage is gonna make this memeworthy and we will go viral for a bit. Instant success!”

    I hope I’m wrong and it’s nice that the world finally seem to get what he’s doing, but I’m afraid he will continue to be the best thing in often shitty movies.

  4. directed by David Gordon Green, who wrote the foreword to Seagalogy, which means I’m two degrees from Nic Cage

    Weren’t you already two degrees away when Green made “Joe”?
    (The Nic Cage one, not the crazy Peter Boyle one, although both are awesome)

  5. I guess I’m okay they went surface level with his more unique and niche stuff because the movie would be catering to Nic Cage fans of all levels with a cross-section, mainly the pop culture meme perception of Cage that everyone would know, who are aware of the weirder stuff from his movies without necessarily having seen them. I think the movie acknowledges that Nic Cage means different things to different people in that respect with the CIA agents listing different movies of his from each other. I don’t know if I’d want them to get deeper on things like MANDY, because I don’t particularly want this to be the READY PLAYER ONE of geeking about Cage stuff, and I think there’s probably people who watch the memorabilia scene and are learning for the first time there’s a Nic Cage movie where he wields a chainsaw and are probably going to want to check it out now based on that. I wasn’t even aware of the chat show appearance that the Nicky persona was based on until this movie.

  6. I thought this was fine – not as bad as the unfunny trailers suggested, but not as good as it should have been. It’s light and breezy but it just feels like a movie made 20 years ago, back when people didn’t play fictionalized versions of themselves all the time so it was still kind of a cool and novel idea. (I’d argue NPH’s role as “himself” 20 years ago in Harold & Kumar pulled off the same joke better). And since Cage is clearly playing a guy who’s nothing like himself and there’s honestly not that much Cage-iness in the movie, the whole thing feels like it could have just been a script about a clueless fictional actor like The Hard Way or Galaxy Quest or I guess Birdman if I ever get around to seeing that movie.

    I’ve been thinking alot about Everything Everywhere All At Once, where you leave the movie feeling like “Man, that movie could ONLY have been made with Michelle Yeoh” (yes, I know they wrote it for Jackie Chan, but the end product certainly feels made for Yeoh). TUWOFMT absolutely needed to feel like it was tailor-made only for Cage, but it’s just kinda mild and half-assed, and I bet if Cage got Me-Too’d or something during production, they could tweak it to be about Matthew McConoughey or The Rock or some shit with minimal inconvenience and it would have turned out exactly the same. (I mean, that longwinded title sounds like it should have been about Daniel Day Lewis or Joaquin Phoenix or Jared Leto or someone, and I hate to say it but I think this movie with someone who seems less in on the joke would be alot more interesting)

  7. jojo – yes, but that was too cumbersome to fit into the sentence. I guess I’m 2nd degree 2 degrees now.

  8. Yeah, that’s the weird thing is that it really was written only for Cage, and I assume they were not very serious about this but they claim that if they couldn’t get him to do it their next idea was to get a chameleon actor like Christian Bale or Daniel Day Lewis to star in it as Nick Cage. (That actually might’ve been something.) And yet I agree, it seems like it would’ve taken a weekend to rewrite it to be about any other actor. That’s my complaint. It’s fine for what it is but Nic Cage deserved a fully Nic Cage movie. Maybe the big surprise is that he’s humble enough not to have demanded one!

  9. I’m with Stu on this one. For me the tone felt just right. I liked that it was just a small-scale buddy movie about two funny and likable characters.

    Neal’s comparison to EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE is interesting, because I also thought about that movie in relation to this one, but for a different reason:

    EEAAO spends a long time in its mundane normal reality at the beginning, before the cracks start to show. And maybe that would be a good approach for an audience that doesn’t know who Michelle Yeoh is and caught this movie randomly on TV not knowing what they were in for. But as someone who saw the trailer and had been waiting for this movie for weeks, I kind of thought (as I often do during exposition scenes) “How long is it going to take for this movie to establish itself as the movie that we agreed to watch when we bought our tickets?”

    Whereas TUWOMT has a slambang opening, then it cuts to Nic Cage and the comedy kicks in right away, and we’re off.

    It’s an imperfect comparison in that EEAAO is obviously a more ambitious movie. I don’t mean this as a criticism of EEAAO specifically, it deserves all the praise it’s getting. I’m just saying I appreciate it when a movie is able to cut to the chase instead of spending a lot of exposition time pretending not to be the movie that we all agreed to watch in the first place.

  10. To speculate for a moment on the lack of specificity, it’s possible Cage was willing to poke fun at himself, but considered it a step too far to include or reference his actual family/personal life.

    But agree that the third act turning into uninspired action sequences is a disappointment. It seemed like they were going somewhere special with him having to literally act his way out of a crisis, but then he gets discovered almost immediately and it’s a bunch of shootouts. They could’ve at least had him summon the Ghost Rider.

  11. You would think the obvious plan B if Cage didn’t want to play himself would have been John Travolta.

  12. This 1990 guest appearance by Cage on the British talk show Wogan appears to be the basis of the “Nicky” character.

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  13. I definitely think that while it doesn’t completely swing for the fences it’s probably the movie a lot of people needed and for that I appreciate it. This weekend was my best friend’s 40th bday and him being someone I saw FACE/OFF and LORD OF WAR with I thought tickets to this would be a nice gift. Especially since he hadn’t set foot in a theater in about 5 years.

    Prior to entering the cinema we were at my place smoking a blunt and talking about the dangers of giving in to ego and how folks give up on themselves and waste any gifts they have that could shine a light in the world. Well what a pleasant surprise it was to see Pascal’s character say something similar early into the movie and seeing a version of the ego in the form of Nicky try to keep Nic from real progress. In that sense it was very spiritually in line with our theme for the day which was very nice. Plus we got a kick out of all the GUARDING TESS references cause for the longest it felt like we were the only two people who still remembered that movie since we always talk about it every now and again.

    Aside from that I was impressed by just how comically competent Pedro Pascal is. How much Cage’s “daughter” looked like Michael Sheen (Vern’s review just confirmed why) and how much this movie also reminded me of THE MATADOR. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a comedy that made me laugh and also made me think existentially about things. Since the last Bill & Ted at least so while it’s not the Cage movie I don’t think anyone on this sight would have conceptualized I’m still thankful it got made. I had a blast with it and so did everyone else at the cinema I saw it with. It was kinda wholesome hearing regular people talk about Nic Cage’s filmography as we walked out of the cinema. I think this movie if anything will remind people of just how rich it really is and that is not a bad thing. Plus the 6th degree connection to Bruce with the one cameo towards the end there also put a smile on my face.

  14. Broddie – that’s hilarious – I too saw it high with a buddy that I always watch Cage movies with (including FACE/OFF!), and I also thought alot about THE MATADOR, and how it’s the only Brosnan “Bond” movie that hits the sad/dark notes that he kept claiming his real Bond movies would explore and they never did. And how MATADOR could have easily starred anyone else and it would have been perfectly fine, but the meta casting just takes it to the next level, like Clint Eastwood in UNFORGIVEN. And how in a weird way TUWOMT is the exact opposite – it’s a perfectly fine and pleasant movie kinda made disappointing by the inclusion of its meta-casting. I honestly think if they made this exact same movie but ADR’d in dialogue to make Cage play “John Stone” or some generic faded actor instead of “Nicolas Cage”, it might have tempered expectations a bit for some of us (but would probably mean this movie would have no hype or theatrical release).

    I mean, I don’t remember much about Sam Elliot’s fictional actor in THE HERO, but I remember the movie was fine and I never once thought “man they didn’t talk at all about TOMBSTONE or ROAD HOUSE! What a missed opportunity!” If Bill Murray played “Bill Murray” in LOST IN TRANSLATION, I think it wouldn’t add much but would disappoint a bunch of people wanting references and cameos from his buddies. I think the best approach is something like 10 ITEMS OR LESS, where Morgan Freeman doesn’t play Morgan Freeman, but he plays a well-liked actor who keeps making thrillers with Ashley Judd – the filmmakers can get their cake and eat it too and the audience doesn’t really overthink it like I’m doing with TUWOMT right now.

  15. I was only 95 percent sure that “Nicky” was based on that Wogan clip when I shared it above, but then I saw this interview where the filmmakers state it as fact. Also it does seem to be, as Vern surmised, a semi-jokey statement that they could’ve gotten a different star to play Cage if Cage turned it down.

    ‘The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent’ Filmmakers Detail How to Get Nicolas Cage to Star in a Movie About Nicolas Cage

    Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten discuss how their project came about and their hope for just one lunch with the Oscar-winning actor to close the deal.

  16. Funny you should mention JCVD, because all through this I kept thinking of «Jean Claude Van Johnson». It has a similar premise, where JCVD plays himself as an actor who has seen better days, who is also a secret agent, doing jobs while he’s making movies.

    That show also has more fun with Van Damme’s filmography, going as far as building an entire episode around Timecop being a prophetic movie, with actual timecops turning up. Timetravel ensues, both the plotting and the jokes in the episode are hugely enjoyable.

    The show runs out of steam before the final episode, and in the end it’s just too slight, even if it is a lot of fun. The same can be said of this movie. I had a good time watching it, but in the end it wasn’t anything special. I think I liked it more than you did, though.

  17. Just saw this. It’s all right; very light entertainment, but that’s ok because it never shoots beyond that.

    Dunno if I agree this would have worked with any other actor except Cage (or someone playing Cage really well) – I mean, they could have done it, but it would have been 300% more generic. His outsized persona is what makes it work, something the directors seemed all too aware of. It’s been a long time, but beyond that bit where he kicks a cig out of someone’s mouth, did JCVD have any actual references to his action films?
    Complete missed opportunity that they didn’t name his movie daughter Kara, or that they cast NPH as a boring agent instead of as Neil Patrick Harris from the Harold and Kumar trilogy… now that would have been something.

    Also, while writing a few words about this movie, it occurred to me there aren’t a lot of ‘actors playing some version of themselves’ movies where they are the protagonists. The only ones I could think of were this, JVCD and Pauly Shore is Dead.

  18. This is kind of an unflattering mirror reflection of THE LAST MOVIE STAR, which I watched for the first time recently. In that one Burt Reynolds isn’t officially playing himself but he really is, whereas here Cage is playing himself but not really. And where that one had a lot to say about Reynolds’ career, movies, audiences, ageing, relationships and life, this one…well, it would be unfair to say it didn’t have anything to say about Cage or anything else, but at the core it’s another one of those black comedies where people take drugs and kill people. Not only is it not too hard to imagine this being rewritten to be about someone else, if this had come out five years ago and starred Seth Rogan as a fictional movie star, with James Franco in the Pascal role, I doubt anyone would have blinked

    Some of the stuff that is Cage-specific falls inbetween two weird stools where it’s too specific to him to have any generalist meaning, but also seems to not really be based on him. Is it really a problem that too many parents out there are making their daughters watch CABINET OF DR CALIGARI? Honestly to me it seems more of a thing that parents won’t even consider stretching or challenging their kids’ cultural horizons. I can sort of imagine Cage making his children just watch old movies (I know he watched old Felix the Cat cartoons with his son Kal-El when he was younger, but that’s awesome), but if this hit too close to home would he be confronting this in this light comedy opposite his fictional wife and daughter.

    With all that said, I enjoyed it. Nothing, great, but quite pleasant. It is like a Rogan/Franco bromance jam, but with a little more emotional maturity and charm. Pascal is good and it’s a Cage movie which is a cut above most of his DTV films and not as much of an endurance test as MANDY and COLOR OUR OF SPACE, so I can’t complain too much, even if I’m unlikely to watch it again any time soon. My only real nitpicks (mild spoilers, I guess):
    . In the reveal of Pacal’s room of Cage memorabilia, it’s not a surprise because before the big shot we can already see an only slightly fuzzy poster for NATIONAL TREASURE clearly in shot with Cage.
    . Why is the film pimping PADDINGTON 2? That film don’t need no pimping! It’s the film half the internet will say “you know, call me quirky but I think PADDINGTON 2 is better than CITIZEN KANE”. Be funnier if they were into MINIONS or something. But you know, I watched this film with someone who doesn’t follow that kind of nonsense, and they thought that bit was funny and charming, so I guess this is more me complaining about how I’ve spent my own time than the movie.

  19. I think the PADDINGTON 2 joke is meant to be on Cage, or at least the version of him we get here. Here’s a guy who wants his kid to watch silent German expressionist masterpieces but has somehow missed one of the most praised and entertaining films of recent memory.

    I agree this is not great, but it is entertaining fun. And as noted above by Broddie, extra props to it for all the GUARDING TESS love.

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