Nicolas Cage in ‘The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent’: Film Review | SXSW 2022

Nicolas Cage meets Nicolas Cage’s biggest fan (Pedro Pascal) in Tom Gormican’s funhouse-mirror buddy picture costarring Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz.

At what point did Nicolas Cage become not just an actor or movie star but an entire concept of big-screen performing, more successful in his taste-be-damned outbursts than Al Pacino, and beloved even — maybe especially — when he’s failing to do what we typically expect of actors, which is to make us forget it’s all an act?

For this former Austinite, it was when the Dobie Theater programmed Vampire’s Kiss at midnight, allowing drunken UT freshmen to stumble from nearby Jester dorm, night after night, to watch him leap atop a desk and shout “THERE you are!” at Maria Conchita Alonso’s poor secretary Alva. Success in blockbusters made such outbursts rarer for a while, but Cage’s weird side was impossible to conceal for long, and sometimes it even served the movies he starred in.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

The Bottom Line

Very entertaining, if less exotic than it sounds.

Release date: April 22 (Lionsgate)

Venue: SXSW Film Festival (Headliners)

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Pedro Pascal, Sharon Horgan, Ike Barinholtz, Alessandra Mastronardi, Jacob Scipio, Lily Sheen, Neil Patrick Harris, Tiffany Haddish

Director: Tom Gormican

Screenwriters: Tom Gormican, Kevin Etten

1 hour 46 minutes

Inventing a fictionalized version of the actor who struggles to live a human life while being goaded toward grrrreatness by the ghost of his wild-at-heart younger self, Tom Gormican’s The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a romp aimed at cultists who have sought out the Crazy Cage performances and forgiven the misfires in between.

Though not solely for superfans, it plays best for those who appreciate a hard-to-untangle knot of realness, fakeness, vanity, artistry, self-commentary and pure comedy. Laced with truly hilarious moments, it’s less daring than one might hope given its conceit, Eggersian title and Charlie Kaufman-seasoned icon-star. But those who accept that it will never be as unpredictable as the man himself should find much to enjoy — especially given the addition of Pedro Pascal, who steals several scenes from a performer who’s nearly impossible to ignore.

Though he enters the film with a very in-character whoo-ah of enthusiasm, Cage’s “Nicolas Cage” soon reveals his vulnerabilities. He failed as a husband to Sharon Horgan’s Olivia, and his sincere attempts to bond with their daughter Addy (Lily Sheen) always wind up being more about him than her. Having made a string of critical and commercial failures, he’s so hungry for a comeback (“not that I went anywhere!”) that he stands at a valet station and performs an unsolicited audition for a terrified-looking David Gordon Green. He doesn’t get the role.

What he does get is an offer he wishes he could high-mindedly dismiss: a million-dollar payday, just to fly to Mallorca for the birthday party of olive magnate Javi Gutierrez (Pascal). Javi idolizes the actor; unbeknownst to Cage, he has written a screenplay he hopes his idol will star in. Caught in the right mood at Javi’s seaside estate, Cage responds favorably to the billionaire’s worshipful pitch. The two bond in a day of drinking, driving and cliff-diving, Cage and Pascal enjoying an immediate chemistry that will sustain the film through its rare dicey moments.

Then Cage is contacted by two CIA agents (Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz, both in great form), who reveal that Javi is the head of a global crime organization. Hoping to influence an election, he has abducted the president of Catalonia’s daughter. Given his privileged guest status at Javi’s compound, the feds want Cage to do some spy work and rescue the girl. In the role of a lifetime, he’ll have to play James Bond while continuing to earn the trust of his new bro.

He takes the mission, but it’s hard for Cage to believe that this boyishly enthusiastic man, given to gushy statements like “whether you like it or not, you have a gift!,” can really be a villain. Gormican and Kevin Etten’s script plays with the uncertainty, giving Pascal a couple of opportunities to play scenes that can be read both ways. Pascal’s biggest roles to date have found him hidden under the Mandalorian’s beskar helmet or transformed by the retro-extreme stylings of Wonder Woman 1984; here, fans will relish being able to see him act sans distractions.

The film loses some of its wild-card flavor as it approaches the end: Stuffing the script with self-referential dialogue about the compromises filmmakers must make to reach an audience is clever, but not enough to make the forthcoming action-flick beats less generic. “Nicolas Cage” is being forced to live out a plot we’d expect from a Nicolas Cage movie, with car chases and heavily-armed standoffs and macho monologues. Though he may fret that the life-or-death stakes are real now (and this time, it’s personal), he clearly digs it. So will most of his fans, Javi included.

Full credits

Venue: SXSW Film Festival (Headliners)
Distributor: Lionsgate
Production companies: Saturn Films, Burr! Productions
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Pedro Pascal, Sharon Horgan, Ike Barinholtz, Alessandra Mastronardi, Jacob Scipio, Lily Sheen, Neil Patrick Harris, Tiffany Haddish
Director: Tom Gormican
Screenwriters: Tom Gormican, Kevin Etten
Producers: Nicolas Cage, Mike Nilon, Kristin Burr, Kevin Turen
Executive Producer: Samson Mucke
Director of photography:
Production designer: Kevin Kavanaugh
Costume designer: Paco Delgado
Editor: Melissa Bretherton
Composer: Mark Isham
Casting directors: Jessica Kelly, Mary Vernieu

1 hour 46 minutes