What to Watch Verdict
Nicolas Cage is matched by scene partner Pedro Pascal as the two deliver brilliant comic performances in the offbeat The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
Nicolas Cage has rarely been as committed to a role
Pedro Pascal proves his comic chops once again in a goofy and odd performance
The film's skewering of Cage's career is matched by its genuine love for his spirit and legacy
The kidnapping storyline is the weakest element of the film
The US government angle is poorly fleshed out, stranding talented comic actors
Some of the father-daughter story could be more emotional
"Nicolas Cage is incredible" are the first words uttered in the new movie The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. That four-word phrase, in all its deserved sincerity, serves as the foundation for this cinematic love letter to a truly distinctive talent.
Massive Talent exists just a step or two outside of the real world, which is all too fitting for its larger-than-life star, who delivers one of his most fiercely committed performances while tip-toeing to the line of self-parody in this meta movie about the pitfalls of being one of the weirdest, most memorable actors of the last 50 years.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent stars Nicolas Cage as… well, Nick Cage. Though the dedicated thespian is well-loved for his work in films like Con Air, The Rock and Face/Off, the Cage of this movie is stumbling as of late, throwing himself into an impassioned audition for a bewildered director. As desperate as he is for a comeback, he’s more desperate for cash, so he reluctantly agrees to travel to the coast of Spain for a million-dollar payday at a birthday party for Javi (Pedro Pascal), a very rich man who may be Cage’s biggest fan. But Cage soon finds himself thrown into a world of international intrigue as CIA agents (Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz) recruit him to spy on his new rich friend.
A few minutes into Massive Talent, Cage has a conversation with "Nicky," a version of the actor from around 1990 who embodies all of the wild-man traits people may think of when they think of the star of Raising Arizona and Wild at Heart. They argue about whether or not Cage needs a game-changer in his career. In short, it takes very little time for co-writer and director Tom Gormican to make clear that this movie has its tongue planted firmly in its cheek.
Cage, for his part, is extremely game in playing up the heightened qualities of his life, from his excessive spending to his manic emotions. If Cage didn’t seem so willing to simultaneously lampoon and embrace his legacy, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent would honestly seem spiteful.
But as much as Cage is the marquee attraction here, he’s well matched by Pascal. Though his most buzzworthy role to date is the title character of the Disney Plus show The Mandalorian, Pascal has proven time and again that he’s an energetic, limber and loose comic performer. His agreeably loopy spirit makes the bromance aspects of the relationship between Cage and Javi come to life enormously well. Javi, we soon learn, has written a script and wants Cage to star as the lead. Where the two bond most, though, is through their shared love of Nicolas Cage.
Director and co-writer Tom Gormican, with Kevin Etten, toes the line between being cheeky and being sincere in their love of Cage. Though many of the star’s blockbuster action movies are name-checked (and sometimes more) within Massive Talent, there’s also references to everything from the indie psychological thriller Mandy to the lighthearted Guarding Tess. (And perhaps one of the best one-off jokes is when Barinholtz’s fed grouchily says, "I’m a 44-year old man, why would I have seen Croods 2?")
Where The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is unable to bear any real weight is in the faux-action movie plot surrounding Cage’s spycraft on Javi, tied to the mysterious kidnapping of a politician’s daughter. This is ostensibly the driving force of the plot, but Gormican and Etten don’t really have their heart in fleshing this side of the movie out. It’s only in the climax where the set pieces feel like they have any serious excitement or tension.
Maybe the problem is when you name-check movies like Con Air, Face/Off and The Rock, you’re bound to come up short. But aside from a funny bit of physical comedy where Cage has to break into a security corridor while heavily drugged, this side of the film is patently uninvolving and fairly sloppy.
Fortunately, Cage and Pascal are so full of life and chemistry that the movie as a whole remains solidly entertaining throughout. (It helps that Javi gets to bond with Cage over the Paddington films, about which this film is unequivocally correct.)
Really, what it all comes down to is an immutable truth of modern cinema: Nicolas Cage may be odd, but his oddness makes him immensely compelling and enjoyable to watch on the big screen. As much as Gormican and Etten’s script has humor throughout, including the star making fun of himself (even throwing in a little Wicker Man reference), this movie serves as a very necessary reminder that Nicolas Cage’s level of commitment is second to none, making his performances all the more impassioned and intense.
A repeated phrase in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, in response to the notion that Nicolas Cage may make a comeback, is "Not that I’ve gone anywhere." While there’s a slight note of self-deprecation and anxiety in that claim, it’s arguably correct. Last year alone, Cage delivered the single best performance of 2021 in the brilliant indie drama Pig.
Though his career is far from perfect, when Nicolas Cage is really going for it, unable to resist the big moments and the small, he is one of the very best actors working today. In this outrageous comedy, he and his scene partner Pedro Pascal are genuinely doing excellent work. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is absolutely ridiculous, in the best way possible.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent releases exclusively in movies theaters on April 22 worldwide.
Josh Spiegel is a freelance cultural critic who has been published in Slashfilm, SyFy, ScreenCrush, The A.V. Club, The Hollywood Reporter, The Washington Post and others. His favorite films include Singin’ in the Rain, The Rocketeer, Pinocchio and A Matter of Life and Death. His favorite TV shows include Ted Lasso, Only Murders in the Building, Deadwood and Lost. He lives in Phoenix with his wife, two sons and too many cats.