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The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Welcome to the Age of Cage

This is a movie that shouldn’t exist.

It stars America’s most inscrutable actor, playing the version of himself that we all imagine when we close our eyes and envision what it must be like to wake up as the star of movies like National Treasure and national treasures like Con Air.

The real-life Nicolas Cage has experienced an undeniable trove of legitimate career success. Followed, of course, by a puzzling labyrinth of questionable life choices, financial disputes with the government and the unfortunate issue of some misappropriated dinosaur bones.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent plays off these scraps of truth without (entirely) relying on them. It molds them into the fictional story of a man most of us think we already know. The Academy Award-winning star of Leaving Las Vegas rolls the sunny streets of LA in a vintage muscle car, singing to himself, thwacking a giant emerald ring against the steering wheel in time with only the finest classic rock.

Beneath this, of course, things aren’t as shiny as the car and the ring. Cage is throwing weight around town as he lobbies unsuccessfully for the prestige roles he craves. His career is experiencing a period of transition and the anxiety has driven him to therapy. He’s devoted to his craft and trying to put his tabloid bad-boy image behind him.

But it’s not getting results. And part of Cage worries whether or not his “old” persona – the one most people associate with him – might have been the driver behind his original success. Has toning things down dulled his edge and made him a less effective actor?

This concern manifests itself in the form of Nicky, a part CGI, part motion capture abomination. Nicky is as hard to look at as he is impossible to look away from, which itself feels kind of meta. Nicky appears to Nicolas, Fight Club style, at critical points throughout the film and the two men bicker, they struggle, and at one point even kiss.

That’s right. The rumors are true. And it’s not a spoiler because nothing can prepare you for it.

Nothing.

Along with the occasional smooch with his computer-generated self, Cage faces impending financial ruin. He maintains a tenuous relationship with his estranged wife and daughter, whom he disappoints regularly. Cage’s love of craft is not shared by everyone, and his habit of focusing everything he says and does through the lens of his personal passions has alienated the most important people in his life.

It seems his only remaining fan is his morally flexible business manager, played by Neil Patrick Harris. NPH channels the Harold and Kumar version of himself overturning any rock necessary to please his client. The problem is that his client’s increasing self doubt is the root of the problem. As a solution, Cage is offered an intriguing possibility.

A reclusive billionaire is about to celebrate a birthday and has offered Cage one million dollars to be the guest of honor. The location is a balmy Mediterranean villa that is, coincidentally, worthy of a Bond villain.

This will in no way prove significant.

Viewing this as a chance to unwind and make an easy buck, Nicolas arrives at the island and meets Javier Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal), his enigmatic host. After a rocky start, they become fast friends and discover a fondness for the same obscure cinema, the same storytelling process, and the same computer-generated anthropomorphic bear.

Javier’s placid, easygoing demeanor and genuine admiration for Cage eventually win the latter over entirely. It isn’t long before the two are fantasizing about making a film together. If ever a man found his brother from another mother, this is it.

But what are the odds someone offers you a million dollars just to “hang out” on remote island – and there’s NO strings attached?

That’s what the CIA would like to know, in the form of Vivian and Martin, two agents played by Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz. When they observe well-known Hollywood actor Nicolas Cage arriving at the Gutierrez compound, they decide to make contact with him. It’s obvious that Cage’s decades of experience making big-budget action pictures makes him an asset to their investigation.

See, there’s a slight possibility Javier could be a murderous drug lord. But evidence is required. With the job outsourced to the star of Valley Girl and Bangkok Dangerous, the agents suppose they can get to the bottom of it.

This, of course, is stupid. Nicolas Cage is an actor, not a spy. And he’s smart enough to point this out to the agents when they make contact. But there’s never any possibility of him saying no, despite his reluctance to betray his new best friend. The film mines no shortage of comedy from Cage’s efforts to do right by his Country and still support his desire to exonerate Javi.

The story leans into farce, with Cage pulling off some solid physical comedy.

Very solid.

The action packed third act pays loving, bonkers homage to Cage’s filmography. It’s part knowing self acknowledgement, part opportunity to observe a man’s true depth of love for his long suffering family. Is the real Nic Cage as fearless and dedicated as his character in The Rock? Can he really handle a set of hand cannons like he did in Face/Off?

The answer may surprise you.

But why should a man whose job it is to get into the heads of fictional characters have such a tough time relating to his flesh and blood family? That’s the real through-line of the movie, and just when you’re beginning to think the story has forgotten about them, Cage’s wife (Sharon Horgan) and daughter (Lily Sheen) are again made to remind us what’s truly at stake.

It’s ultimately the women in Cage’s life that provide the emotional counterweight necessary to keep this flight of fancy grounded. Horgan and Sheen don’t get a ton of screen time with Cage. But when they’re present it counts, and their handful of conversations pack more of a punch than the rest of the film’s dialog combined. It ultimately helps bring everyone’s arc to a satisfying (if somewhat unexpected) conclusion.

If you’re already a fan of the man, this movie is a no-brainer. You’re a smart, well adjusted person and probably also very attractive. It’s the rest of you unwashed heathen I’m talking to when I strongly urge you toward this film. It’s not just a wall-to-wall showcase of all things Cage. It’s a genuinely funny comedy, an honestly thrilling action movie and, more often than you’d think, a serviceable drama.

Like Cage himself, this movie should not exist and yet does.

Welcome to the Age of Cage.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent can be seen via VOD, including on Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, Apple TV, and YouTube.

Bruce Hall View All

When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, and he looks you crooked in the eye and he asks you if ya paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like that: "Have ya paid your dues, Jack?" "Yessir, the check is in the mail."

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