A clear front-runner for the most self-aware movie of 2022 has to be the ridiculously (yet hilariously) titled “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent”. Perhaps best described as a Nicolas Cage satire starring Nicolas Cage, this unashamedly gonzo cocktail sees the 58-year-old Hollywood enigma having a field day poking fun at his own strange and impossible-to-define movie career. At least for the first half of the movie where it milks all it can out of its central conceit. After that we’re left with a pretty by-the-numbers second half. And ‘by-the-numbers’ was the last thing I expected from this movie.
You could say “Unbearable Weight” is the ultimate cash-in for an actor often cited for his many cash-in performances. But in many ways Nicolas Cage has transcended any and all labels. Sure he has starred in a ton of low budget, straight to VOD schlock. But then he’ll surprise us with an out-of-the-blue performance that reminds us that he’s an Academy Award winning actor. But what endears him most to audiences is how openly he embraces the mythos surrounding his four decade-long career. Nothing shows that clearer than this movie.
The problem is “Unbearable Weight” expends all of its wacky creative energy in its first half. This is when the movie is at its funniest, lampooning Nicholas Cage’s peculiar claim to stardom. And Cage is 110% in on the joke which is what makes is so fun. But it reaches a point where the humor dries up and the semi-serious turn it takes in the second half just doesn’t have the pull or the allure of the earlier nuttiness.
Directed by Tom Gormican, the movie opens with Cage riding through Los Angeles in his classic black Ferrari with Credence blasting through his speakers. He looks on top of the world, but the truth is quite different. His obsession with his work has driven a wedge between him and his daughter Addy (Lily Sheen) and his ex-wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan) has had enough. To make matters worse, he’s lost out on the “role of a lifetime” and the only gig his agent (Neil Patrick Harris) can muster is an appearance at a birthday party for a billionaire superfan named Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal).
Despite its $1 million payout, Nic turns down the party to wait for more serious offers befitting a thespian of his ‘massive talent’. But he ends up accepting the gig after he’s locked out of his hotel suite for racking up a $600,000. Disgruntled and dejected, Nic vows to retire from acting once he’s back home.
He arrives at Javi’s mediterranean island villa and meets his host who is charming, a bit starstruck, and even a little creepy. It turns out he wants to make a movie with the legendary Nicolas Cage. Nic finds the whole thing a little weird, but he and Javi form a creative bond that neither was expecting. Before long Nic is second guessing his decision to quit acting. But those good vibes start to sour after Nic is secretly approached by two generic and consistently unfunny CIA operatives played by Ike Barinholtz and Tiffany Haddish. They claim Javi is the head of a global arms cartel and is responsible for kidnapping a Catalonian president’s daughter.
Suddenly Nic Cage is caught in-between a dangerous crime family and the US government. It sounds like pure craziness, and to the film’s credit it starts that way. We get scenes playing off of that signature Cage madness. And the absurdity of Nic and Javi’s friendship (culminating in a pretty hilarious acid trip sequence) is just what is advertises. But then the movie becomes something I was never expecting – conventional. The last 30 minutes or so turns into a fairly flat buddy action movie with a little family drama thrown in on the side. It’s such a jarring departure from what made the first half entertaining.
So “Unbearable Weight” truly is a tale of two movies with one being significantly better than the other. There are good moments of unhinged zaniness, cool throwback mentions of past Cage movies like “Face/Off”, “Gone in 60 Seconds”, “National Treasure” and even “Guarding Tess”, and a really good meta performance of Cage playing Cage. But sadly it’s shortcomings even things out. The dialogue can be hysterical one minute and pointlessly crass the next. The entire CIA angle feels like a wasted opportunity. And in the final act things turn surprisingly dull. It’s unfortunate but also kinda fitting for a fascinating career that has quite literally been all over the map. “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Success” is out now in theaters.