Skip to main content

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent review: Nic Cage as Nic Cage

In The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, Nicolas Cage plays Nicolas Cage, prolific actor, Hollywood star, and icon of the internet. If that concept alone puts you in stitches, you may be the right audience for this meta trifle of a comedy.

It’s the kind of movie that treats the mere mention of other movies (like Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and Guarding Tess) as a punch line, and that regards characters repeatedly calling Nicolas Cage “Nic Cage” to his face as the height of hilarity. At one point, the star stumbles upon a shrine to his own output, a long wall of lovingly showcased props and merchandise with his likeness on them, and winds up gawking at an unconvincing life-size replica of himself, brandishing the golden pistols from Face/Off. It’s the whole film in a nutshell: A shrine to the cult of Cage, a memorabilia room of a movie.

A long time coming

Cage has been working toward a role like this for a while. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent feels like the logical endpoint to one fork in his twisting career path, the one that’s been bending into an ouroboros of cult fame, allowing him to capitalize on how fans and detractors alike caricature his wild-man talents. Recent movies like Willy’s Wonderland and Prisoners of the Ghostland put those talents to little use, instead asking only that he show up, stand around, and be Nicolas Cage — they essentially turn him into an accessory. Here, the sales pitch is more direct: You pay for Nic Cage and Nic Cage is exactly what you get, without the distraction of a fictional character.

Director and co-writer Tom Gormican (That Awkward Moment) has essentially built Cage his very own JCVD, the 2008 Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle that cast the Muscles from Brussels as a washed-up version of himself. As in that sardonic action-comedy, an actor with a lot of tough guys on his CV is forced to channel a history of fake violence into the genuine kind when he’s thrust into danger … but not before suffering some professional indignities and grappling with his own failings as a divorced father. (While the real Cage has two kids and is on his fifth marriage, that’s been fictionalized here into a simpler sitcom arrangement, with Catastrophe‘s Sharon Horgan as his supportive but no-nonsense ex-wife and Lily Mo Sheen as his exasperated teenage daughter.)

Nicolas Cage laughs while Pedro Pascal worries.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Missed opportunities

Crestfallen about a part he didn’t land, and eager to pay off some enormous debts (a wink at the star’s heavily publicized tax problems), Cage agrees to attend an eccentric billionaire’s weekend birthday party on a secluded Spanish island for a cool $1 million. His host turns out to be an effusive superfan played, with a sycophantic twinkle, by Pedro Pascal. There’s comic potential in an actor of Cage’s stature and popularity forced to humor a die-hard fan with expectations of how his idol ought to behave off-screen. But Unbearable Weight mostly sees an opportunity for kinship between the two, fulfilling a Comic-Con fantasy of meeting your famous Hollywood hero and discovering he’s actually just a very generous, thoughtful, down-to-earth dude interested in reading your screenplay.

Gormican flirts vaguely with the house-of-mirrors laughs of another Cage project, Adaptation, when the two instant besties start brainstorming a project, one that takes the mutating shape of their own circumstances and creative partnership. (“This is an intelligent film for grown-ups,” they keep repeating, as the Donald Kaufman-worthy hijinks erupting around them beg deliberately to differ.) But the film is closer in spirit to one of Seth Rogen’s lightly satirical, shoot-’em-up bromances, complete with a cameo by Pineapple Express director David Gordon Green — who secured from Cage one of his finest late-period performances in Joe — and a plot that superficially recalls The Interview. As it turns out, the CIA has identified Pascal’s good-natured Javi as a ruthless international drug lord, which requires Cage to bumble through some painfully unfunny undercover spy games as agents played by Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz bark orders at him through a headset.

Cage, as usual, understands the assignment. In this case, that amounts to essentially putting the hallmarks of his “nouveau shamanic” acting style into quotation marks. In its own sketch-comedy way, it’s a layered performance, with the star playing himself as a relaxed eccentric who must occasionally meet the demands of the situation with some characteristic bellowing, sobbing, and hip-thrusting. The movie saves his most over-the-top line readings for sporadic conversations with an imaginary doppelgänger — a digitally airbrushed scene partner whose Elvisian snarling feels like Cage spoofing the stereotype of a quintessentially quotable Cage turn. Yet Gormican does nothing with this split-personality device; it’s a throwaway gag.

Nicolas Cage and Lily Mo Sheen watch a movie while Sharon Horgan sleeps behind them.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

A love letter to himself

We’re supposed to marvel at what a good sport Cage is here, enduring cracks about how he used to be a bigger star and how he could stand to say no to a project sometimes. But these jokes are really compliments in disguise, akin to the softballs they lob in job interviews when they ask you to identify your biggest weaknesses. The portrait of Cage that emerges is of an artist who’s devoted to his craft but still humble, a celebrity unfailingly polite to his fans, and a workhorse who does a lot of movies not for the money, but because, gosh darn it, he just enjoys acting! Even the critiques of his fictional fatherhood are flattering: He annoys his daughter by … being a passionate cinephile who encourages her to watch silent movies! As tongue-in-cheek as the title sounds, it accurately captures the fawning tone of this jokey self-portrait — the sense that Cage is in fact starring in a love letter to himself.

Maybe he deserves one. Contrary to the perception of the guy as a lazy check-casher, he does tend to bring an emotional intensity to his work, even when that work is well beneath him. There is something to be said for making a lot of movies, to not preciously overthinking what each will mean in the larger context of your career. And Cage can still deliver a remarkable performance, as he did just last summer as the sorrowful culinary luminary of Pig, a much more perceptive film about art, dedication, and celebrity. Cage is perfectly aware of how his choices — the projects he’s picked over the years, the volatility he’s brought to them — have left the court of public opinion divided on his value, with partisans in both the “genius” and the “incorrigible ham” camps. So why not dine out on both perceptions with an irreverent wink?

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022 Movie) Official Trailer – Nicolas Cage

The problem with The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent isn’t that the film’s an ego-stroking victory lap. It’s that Cage deserves a better tribute to his showbiz legacy than one that consists largely of starstruck onlookers yelling, “The guy’s a fucking legend!” What we have here is more meme than movie. And as an action comedy without a single memorable set piece, it succeeds only in making one appreciate the relative dumb fun of the actor’s numerous direct-to-video potboilers, which delivered the goods without so much self-satisfied smirking. By the time his highness is choking up through a screening of Paddington 2 (a shameless appeal to the Twitter hordes), this particular Nicolas Cage fan found himself longing for a Nicolas Cage movie that genuinely utilizes his gifts rather than just broadly, witlessly lionizing them.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent opens in theaters April 22. For more reviews and writing by A.A. Dowd, visit his Authory page.

A.A. Dowd
A.A. Dowd, or Alex to his friends, is a writer and editor based in Chicago. He has held staff positions at The A.V. Club and…
5 cheesy Netflix Christmas movies you need to watch right now
A man and a woman look at each other in Falling for Christmas.

Netflix may have some truly great movies, but the vast majority have made-for-TV quality at best, and the cheese factor is extremely high. All of the made-for-Netflix romances tend to play out in the same way, and many of these "Netflix originals" are so similar that they tend to blend together.

It's not as if Netflix is unaware of this. If you type "cheesy movies" into Netflix's search bar, the results will give you most of their holiday romance films. From there, we narrowed the choices down to the five cheesy Netflix movies that you should watch right now. All of these films are preposterously silly, but they're also enjoyable in their own way. In other words, you'll have fun with them.
Holidate (2020)

Read more
Get paid $300 to switch to Dish Satellite TV [Sponsored]
apple dish network

Here's an unusual, one-time side gig that pays up to $300. It's called switching to Dish. While Dish will give anybody a $100 prepaid card to make the switch, they'll pay $300 if you switch from DirecTV. It's an odd bargain, sure, and quite the nasty attack, but they have four reasons — features that Dish has and DirecTV does not — that they feel back up their offer. So, tap the button below to investigate this $300 offer yourself, or keep reading as we discuss the four benefits of switching from DirecTV to Dish.

Why you should switch from DirecTV to Dish
As the most known satellite TV companies, Dish and DirecTV naturally have a sort of rivalry. And once you're locked into one service, the motivation to switch is low. Phone calls, cancellations, and more are a huge hassle. As a result, Dish is providing $300 for your time, plus four service-based reasons to make the switch.

Read more
What’s new on Amazon Prime Video in December 2023
Scarlett Johansson in Asteroid City.

In Christmas lore, the good children of the world can expect presents under the Christmas tree, while bad children will get coal in their stockings. Looking at the films and TV shows coming in December to Amazon Prime Video, we can only conclude that Prime Video thinks that we've all been very bad this year because our Christmas present on December 25th is the Prime Video premiere of this year's biggest box office bomb, The Flash, to be followed two days later by another infamous bomb, Terminator: Genisys. That's not the most auspicious way to close out 2023.

It's not all bad news for Prime Video subscribers in December. Wes Anderson's Asteroid City is arriving this month, as is Reacher season 2. Sound of Freedom, one of this year's most controversial titles, is also coming to Prime Video on December 26. Keep reading for our complete roundup of everything new on Amazon Prime Video in December 2023. Our picks for the month are in bold.

Read more