By Connor Dziawura
Nicolas Cage is in the midst of a renaissance. From Academy Award winner to blockbuster action star, prolific direct-to-video performer and now misunderstood indie darling, Cage has been viewed in many lights over the past four decades.
The latest project in this new phase of Cage’s career, which has found the actor embraced both by critics and a dedicated fandom, is “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” Lionsgate’s goofy new action-comedy in which the actor stars as a fictionalized version of himself.
Directed by Tom Gormican, who wrote the screenplay with Kevin Etten, “Massive Talent” has fun riffing on public perception of Cage and paying tribute to his legacy as an actor.
But while it’s effective at providing some laughs, the film centers around what ultimately feels like a slapdash plot involving a debt-saddled Cage, both struggling to land roles and find common ground with his family, accepting a $1 million offer to attend billionaire superfan Javi’s birthday party. Only thing is, Javi — played by Pedro Pascal — winds up being an arms dealer tied to a political kidnapping, and Cage is recruited as a CIA informant to rescue the victim and save his own family.
While the plot as described is surely outrageous, the film doesn’t handle its meta shenanigans in as smart a way as it feels there was potential for, nor does it really even take its material far enough. Rather, “Massive Talent” comes in the form of a fairly standard studio buddy action comedy, with a highly referential script that feels as if it was written to satisfy with name drops to past roles like “Con Air,” “Face/Off,” “Moonstruck” and “Guarding Tess” — or even one of the actor’s own favorite films, the 1920 silent German expressionist horror classic “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.”
Cage fully commits to this absurd, self-aware vision of himself, complete with a manic, devil-on-his-shoulder version — and he and Pascal have chemistry as the leads, so it’s fun seeing them on screen together — but ultimately, the arms dealer angle isn’t fleshed out enough to be particularly believable, even when accepting the silliness of the basic premise and its tone. Similarly, the film could have better handled its underbaked CIA operatives, played by Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz, who neither connect when the film aims for humor or seriousness.
Nevertheless, while there was potential to take the concept in a more subversive direction, or at least spend more time developing its story and characters further, the film is an entertaining enough crowd-pleaser that is bound to prove worthwhile for fans of Cage and for general audiences alike, especially if it’s in a packed theater as uproarious as the one I was in.
“The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” opens in theaters Friday, April 22.