‘Unbearable Weight’: A kooky Nicolas Cage movie entertains but could have been kookier
Going all meta, the actor plays a version of himself in a sometimes funny commentary on action films that relies on the usual tropes of action films.
In one of the many meta moments in the intermittently hilarious and entertainingly goofy “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” Nicolas Cage is trying to make the argument he’s NOT actually in the CIA, and he says the only organization he belongs to is the Screen Actors Guild—and also AFTRA, but he’s not really sure what that is: “I think it has something to do with radio.”
That’s a funny throwaway line, referencing the guild merging with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists in 2012, meaning movie stars and TV journalists and “The Morning Zoo Crew” (and the joker writing this review) all belong to the same union. It’s also an indication this is the kind of movie that will be filled with Easter Eggs and inside jokes, and it’s OK if you don’t get all of the references, because even as “Unbearable Weight” features Nicolas Cage and his family and friends commenting on the “real life” of Nicolas Cage, it’s also a fairly standard Nicolas Cage action film, with international locations, politically charged kidnappings, drug cartels, fights, shootouts and corny messaging about how nothing is more important than family.
Therein lies the strength but also the mild disappointment of director and co-writer Tom Gormican’s action-packed romp. It’s a kick to see Cage joining the long parade of actors who have played versions of themselves in the last few decades, from Neil Patrick Harris in the “Harold & Kumar” movies to Bill Murray in “Zombieland” to the cast of “This Is the End” to Keanu Reeves in “Always Be My Maybe.” Early on, there’s hope this film will achieve something along the lines of Spike Jonez’s mind-bending “Being John Malkovich,” but it plays things relatively safe most of the time. Just because Nicolas Cage is playing himself and we get a myriad of references to his greatest roles as well as a few we might have forgotten about (hello, “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”), and just because the characters comment about how certain plot developments are driven by marketing concerns and have been done to death, that doesn’t obfuscate the fact we’re still seeing those very plot developments play out.
Lionsgate presents a film directed by Tom Gormican and written by Gormican and Kevin Etten. Rated R (for language throughout, some sexual references, drug use and violence). Running time: 107 minutes. Opens Thursday at local theaters.
Still, it’s worth the journey due to the sheer star power of Cage’s performance, his willingness to commit to this Funhouse Mirror silliness, and a half-dozen moments that are comedic gold and yet somehow absurdly touching, e.g., when a character delivers a heart-wrenching monologue detailing how the 1994 film “Guarding Tess” was the catalyst for one final moment of bonding with his dying father, and Cage humbly accepts the man’s gratitude before launching into a dissection of the complexity of his character, Secret Service agent Doug Chesnick. Hoo boy.
Nicolas Cage is playing “Nick Cage” here, which is the filmmakers’ way of acknowledging this is a fictionalized version of the ubiquitous pop culture icon who has been acting for some 40 years, reaching the absolute heights of his profession with an Oscar and a slew of blockbuster hits before slamming into middle-aged meme-worthiness and starring in one B-movie after another, e.g., “Looking Glass” and “Between Worlds” and “A Score to Settle” and “Running With the Devil” and “Kill Chain” and “Primal” and “Jiu Jitsu” and “Prisoners of the Ghostland,” and those titles are just from the last three-four years.
Nick hits an all-time low after he makes a spectacle of himself at the 16th birthday party for his daughter Addy (played by Lily Sheen, daughter of actors Kate Beckinsale and Michael Sheen), after which his long-suffering but still sympathetic ex-wife Olivia (Sharon Hogan) tells him he’s got to get his s--- together. Meanwhile, Nick is broke and is facing a $600,000 tab from his yearlong stay at the Sunset Towers, so he reluctantly accepts a $1 million offer just to show up and be Nick Cage at a birthday bash for olive-oil magnate Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal) at Javi’s lavish compound on the Spanish island of Mallorca.
Oh, and there’s also this: A couple of bumbling CIA operatives (Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz) believe Javi is the leader of a powerful drug cartel and is behind the kidnapping of the teenage daughter of a Catalan presidential candidate. Unable to penetrate Javi’s fortress, the agents ask Nick to spy on Javi and Nick accepts the assignment, because after all, he’s PLAYED action-movie anti-heroes like this many times before, so he’s got this! Ahem.
Javi geeks out around Nick like an overgrown superfan at Comic Con, but there’s something endearing about his puppy-dog earnestness. Nick can’t help but fall into a classic, mismatched Buddy Movie relationship with Javi, which leads to all manner of action-comedy hijinks. Also, Nick has hallucinatory conversations from time to time with a manic, unhinged, “Wild at Heart”-era version of himself, and have we mentioned Javi has a shrine to Cage’s movies, complete with a life-size statue of “Face/Off” Cage that even Nick/Nic finds disturbing?
With a late touch that will seem original only for viewers unaware of Robert Altman’s “The Player” and a final chapter that is more Nicolas Cage Action Movie than Nicolas Cage Meta Trip, “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” becomes less a commentary on Hollywood stardom than a reminder of how Cage truly is a movie star, whether he’s in a near-masterpiece such as last year’s “Pig,” another forgettable piece of schlock—or an interesting yet familiar project such as this one.