Director: Tom Gormican
Writers: Kevin Etten, Tom Gormican
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Pedro Pascal, Jacob Scipio
The idea of Nicolas Cage playing himself either sounds like a self-indulgent mess or the most fun you’ve had on film in years. Fortunately, even the most ambivalent of Cage will have to admit that “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent 2022” is solidly the latter. The meta comedy sees fictional movie star Nic Cage working with the CIA to solve a political kidnapping by the Spanish mob, all while he has a movie-loving bromance with a megafan played by Pedro Pascal. While movie references and Cage quotes abound, there’s something for everyone in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.” It is one of the funniest movies of the year.
Directed by Tom Gormican from a screenplay he wrote with Kevin Etten, the spirited meta-comedy plays like a fan letter to Cage from someone who has not only seen a lot of movies, but also has good taste. Alternating between Hollywood comedy, espionage thriller, and bromance, it sometimes feels like the movie is threading the world’s most ridiculous needle. What starts out as an intellectual episode of “Entourage” quickly turns into a hilarious spy spoof based on a genuine story of love and friendship between grown men. It works not only because Cage and Pascal are truly brilliant together, but because the film evokes a world that, ridiculous as it is, makes its own rules and follows them.
Fictional Cage, who goes by the name Nic for most of the film, is a movie star down on his luck. The film opens with Nic approaching the director of a project he’s set his sights on, who he says might be his “King Lear.” Both his daughter and his ex-wife are fed up with his narcissistic movie star routine, and he is in debt because of his lavish lifestyle. When his agent makes him an offer to appear at a birthday party in Mallorca for a million dollars, he has no choice but to reluctantly accept.
Throughout the film, Nic is visited by Nicky, a rag-haired specter of his younger self who shines with either the craziness of youth or tons of plastic surgery. Whatever it is, that creepy CGI de-aging effect works weirdly well in this context: it’s supposed to be weird. In interviews, the real Cage said that this character was what interested him most about the project, an admission that reveals more about him than the actual film. Nicky has Marilyn Manson-streaked blonde hair and harasses Nic about his career options, yelling, “You’re not an actor, you’re a fucking movie star!” Nicky’s worst nightmare is that Nic will play the “gay guy in the next Duplass brothers movie.”
If Nicky is the fame-hungry demon on Nic’s shoulder, then Javi (Pascal) is his creatively aligned angel. Unbeknownst to Nic, Javi has a script he’s looking forward to Nic reading, and the nurses dream of one day working on it. After a few drinks, they discover their shared love of film, including “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.” When two CIA agents contact Nic and reveal that Javi is the head of a major Spanish criminal organization that kidnapped a teenage girl for political reasons, Nic sincerely mourns the loss of his burgeoning bromance.
When Nic must call on his considerable talents to save the young woman (and symbolically repair his relationship with his daughter), he ponders the similarities between espionage and acting. To keep his cover with Javi and prolong his stay in the compound, he agrees to develop a script with his new friend. Thus begins the most meta elements of the film, which unsurprisingly are also the most self-indulgent.
While it’s fun to hear Nic wax poetic about movies, things get a little flickery when Nic starts saying things like, “I can’t stand talkies. It has to have some plot to move it forward.” We got the point long ago when Nic says, “It’s time to find out how this ends.” But it’s only because the film has been so successful in its professed plot-driven comedy that these lines feel unnecessary. There is a lot going on, but for the most part it all comes together. The script is smart enough to translate without such blatant nods to what he’s doing, and the audience is too.