Monday, May 2, 2022

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is too generic for its own good


I'm glad we've all come around on Nicolas Cage in recent years. Not that an Oscar-winning performer with untold millions stashed away in his bank account needs defending, but for a while there, it seemed like Cage was a punchline just because he starred in some goofy subpar movies. Thankfully, modern-day works like Mandy and Pig have reinforced the man's talents and ensured that Cage is no longer just a source of meme-based mockery. His ascent in the eyes of the public is reflected in the mere existence of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, a new comedy predicated on the idea that casual moviegoers would love to see a meta mostly fictional take on Cage's life and career. It's an excitingly bold concept, even if the execution is never as daring as its leading man.

Nick Cage (Nicolas Cage) has had better moments in his career. In the throes of middle-age, Cage is struggling to secure consistent exciting work while his relationship with teenage daughter, Addy (Lily Sheen), is crumbling. In the middle of all these problems comes an offer to appear at a party hosted by Nicolas Cage super-fan Javi (Pedro Pascal) for $1 million. Needing the dough, Cage agrees to go and finds himself immediately clicking with Javi. But this friendship gets immediately tested when C.I.A. agents (played by Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz) inform Cage that his new pal is actually the head of a massive criminal organization.

Nicolas Cage movies are known for being enjoyably wacky, for featuring lines like "How in the name of Zeus's butthole" or moments where Cage snorts cocaine off a chainsaw. If they're not, they tend to pack a deep emotional wallop with bold storytelling, like last years Pig. Considering the daring artistry of his filmography, it feels downright insulting to plop Cage into a comedy built on the generic absent dad melodrama that fueled so many 1990s kids movies. Writer/director Tom Gormican (who penned script with Kevin Etten) has constructed a homage to Cage that knows the lines of his famous films. However, he fails to capture the creativity or energy of his best works, or even create a new fun aesthetic as a substitute.

That's not say The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a bad or painful watch, of course. It's got its fair share of amusing moments, many of them coming from whenever Cage and Pascal are just chilling. A sequence of them getting paranoid while tripping out on LSD had me cackling, especially since both actors play the ludicrous scenario totally straight. A similarly enjoyable moment where they bond over Paddington 2 also proves amusing. Cage, for his part, is also constantly engaging and he deserves credit for playing a version of himself that's mostly an oblivious buffoon with other people. As Keanu Reeves proved in Always Be My Maybe, it can be a lot of fun to see actors portraying warped versions of their star personas and that proves fitfully true here in Massive Talent.

Scenes where Cage plays opposite a digitally-augmented younger version of himself are also an enjoyable use of the man's talents and prove to be an enjoyable departure from reality. Unfortunately, too much of Massive Talent is anchored to Earth and specifically to a crime drama that just isn't very fun or interesting. Generic arms dealer foes take up the majority of the screentime in the third act, while it proves bizarre how straightforward this storyline is played. Sizeable stretches of the story go by where there aren't even attempts at jokes while the character-based drama is nowhere near strong enough to pick up the slack. Worse, Gormican can't stage a car chase to save his life, so clumsy filmmaking abounds whenever the action gets heavy.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is yet another modern-day comedy that would be a lot funnier and more enjoyable if it just simmered down the action elements and let the characters breathe. As it is, it' an admirably wacky meta-comedy in concept that proves frustratingly uninvolving in execution. Getting to see Nicolas Cage on the big-screen is rarely a total waste of time, but he deserved a better comedy to commit his talents to, ditto for Pedro Pascal. In a face-off for your time and attention between The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent and other superior Nicolas Cage star vehicles, there's no doubt who would win.

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