By: Jeff Ching
When I had first heard about a movie centred around Nicolas Cage playing himself and that it was going to be “the most Nicolas Cage movie ever made”, it became the film I was anticipating the most this year. He’s been my favourite actor since, maybe, grade 8. Con Air was the first R-rated movie I ever snuck into…and got caught doing so as well. We tried to pull off the whole, “I don’t speak English” act and pretend to not understand the employee telling us to leave – it failed. Shortly after, my brother snuck me into an R-rated double bill of Con Air followed by Face Off. I was blown away. I was convinced I would never see a better double bill than that and maybe that still holds true.
Nowadays, Nicolas Cage’s name holds something very different, but unique. On one hand, he’s made as many bad straight-to-DVD movies as Steven Seagal and that’s…really staggering. But, for every five bad Cage movies (I owe the IRS money, so I’ll take any role?), audiences get that one absolute hidden gem; movies where the actor reaches a full 11/10 with his over-the-top, insane freak-outs and no one even comes close to his level of performance. Whether we laugh at him or with him, it’s always entertaining. Mandy should have won him an Oscar, and is maybe the best work of his career. Mom and Dad is one of the funniest horror movies of the past decade, and 95% of that goes to Cage. Pig…talk about a movie that defied expectations.
As I sat in the theatre waiting for the movie to start, I was borderline giddy with excitement. The movie was finally here. Did it live up to the hype?! Sadly, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent could not withstand the unbearable weight of massive hype.
Nicolas Cage tries to deliver his exaggerated schtick that we all love about him, but something about it just doesn’t work here. In his other movies, the plot builds towards his freak-out moments and, in this case, it just wasn’t earned. For example, I get why co-writer/director Tom Gormican (That Awkward Moment) thought of having alter ego Nicky Cage scream a swear word for 20 seconds would be a great “Nic Cage moment”, but it just comes off as irritating and cringeworthy. The actor needs better writing than this.
The movie’s concept had so much potential to be truly memorable, but Gormican’s script (which he co-wrote with Workaholics producer Kevin Etten) just doesn’t take any risks and doesn’t think outside the box. Once you get past the concept, it’s actually a very generic mainstream Hollywood movie that isn’t as clever as it wants to think it is. The script’s many attempts at playing with the viewers’ expectations and swerving us are eye-roll inducing; I could see the punchlines a mile away, because this humour has been done to death.
The first act had me very worried. Cage is a good sport for letting the film poke fun at his career, but the jokes come off too obvious and surface level. The jokes needed to cut a little deeper and be more “insider”. Cage tries to make the comedy work, but it feels forced rather than natural.
Luckily, the film turns for the better after the inciting incident, where a desperate Nick Cage reluctantly takes a $1 million payday to show up at a billionaire’s birthday party – Javi, played by Pedro Pascal. I’m not familiar with this actor, but once he shows up, he proceeds to steal the movie from Cage. He is so natural, likable and charming, and I will happily seek out anything else he’s in. By far the strongest element of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is the bromance between Nick Cage and Javi. Their comedic chemistry is really good, and watching them go from awkward strangers to close friends is a beautiful thing. Of course, I always approve of characters going on LSD trips to grow their friendship. Now, the comedy is hitting. I almost wish the entire movie was their LSD trip. How about casting these two in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas 2?
But then, we get the CIA storyline. Javi may be behind the kidnapping of a politician’s daughter and the CIA need the help of Nicolas Cage to go undercover and foil the plan. Maybe I shouldn’t keep playing hypothetical screenwriter, but I saw so much comedic potential that was never realized. What if Nick Cage in his undercover operations got busted, but then used his over-the-top acting skills to get out of situations? Hell, he could even use lines from his movies, since this movie loves its fan service and meta humor so much. The movie eventually does pull the trigger on this idea very late into its runtime, but with zero comedic pay off. Come on, Gormican!
This brings me to one of my biggest issues with this movie – the meta humour. So many times, we have characters breaking the 4th wall, commenting on the movie’s plot, reminding us not to take the movie seriously. This humour was cool when Scream did it. Even Deadpool did it well, but then Deadpool 2 ran this humour into the ground. Postmodern meta humour has gotten very stale and, honestly, it’s not difficult to write either. Even as a “fan servicey” homage to Nicolas Cage’s career, the movie could have been so much more creative with its references.
Why not let Cage recreate more of his iconic moments? You can get funny reactions out of Nick Cage’s family members rolling their eyes at him quoting his own lines in real life. For example, when Nick Cage is ready to go into battle, why not recreate this brief scene from Gone in 60 Seconds?
The last third of the movie turning into an action movie was to be expected, but it just feels like it goes through the motions and wallows in mediocrity. The set pieces have lack imagination, brutality, or even an over-the-top rah-rah speech by Cage.
I couldn’t help but wonder, what if the concept of this movie had been given to Edgar Wright to pen the script? Or Charlie Kaufman? Or even The Daniels? Nicolas Cage may have been a huge star in the 90s, but arguably his best work has been these obscure, weird indie films and I wish this script found a balance in between.
Trust me when I say that as a huge Nicolas Cage fan, it hurts me to write this review. Though if I could be a little more positive, at the end of the day, I was entertained and I did laugh quite a bit. If I had gone in knowing nothing about the movie, I’m sure I’d be writing something more positive, so maybe I’m at fault for going in with such high expectations. If I was a Rotten Tomatoes critic, I still would give it a fresh rating; honestly, it’s a solid three-out-of-five. But, I was hoping for the juiciest, plumpest tomato and, instead, what I got was a slightly discoloured tomato that still looks semi-edible. One that I reluctantly tell the Subway employee to add to my sub – one of those tomatoes.
Is this movie a return to form for Nicolas Cage like many say? I say 2021 gave us a far better movie for Cage fans, and that was Prisoners of the Ghostland. It’s a bonkers, trippy, surreal fever dream of a movie, but at the centre of it is the hilariously over-the-top Nicolas Cage performance that we all love about him. If you get something out of this review, I hope you check that other movie out.
Read more of Jeff Ching’s thoughts on film at The Ching of Comedy’s blog.
Final rating: *** (out of 5)