What does one begin with when talking about Nicolas Cage?
That he hails from the Coppola family tree, arguably the most prolific Hollywood family? That, in 1995, he was one of the youngest actors to have won a Best Actor Oscar? Or, perhaps in the 2010s, he starred in a string of direct-to-video movies that may not even exist.
Those are good starting points, but the best way to talk about Cage’s vast acting abilities is by acknowledging his willingness to do any movie and any sort of performance. Regardless of the movie’s quality, his dedication to the project is unwavering.
All of this comes together in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” a wildly meta and enjoyable tribute to the legend that is Cage.
Playing a fictionalized version of himself, down-on-his-luck Nicolas “Nick” Cage strikes out at an audition he viewed as his return into the limelight. He’s in the process of getting divorced and is experiencing financial difficulties. Nick begrudgingly accepts a $1 million proposition from his agent Richard (Neil Patrick Harris) to attend the birthday of Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal), a wealthy man and Nick Cage super fan.
What seemed like an easy cash crab ends up being Nick’s most difficult task: He finds himself in the middle of a CIA operation and must tap into his most iconic roles to save the day.
In order to appreciate “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” one must know a basic understanding of Cage’s (“Raising Arizona,” “Pig”) career. Those who know his filmography in and out will get the complete, immersive Cage experience.
His iconic movies, “Con Air,” “The Rock” and “National Treasure” to name a few, are referenced throughout but the true joy is in the deep cut references. CIA operative Vivian (Tiffany Haddish) calling Nick Cage “the guy from ‘Moonstruck’” and her partner Martin’s (Ike Barinholtz) subsequent disgust is one of the funniest moments in the film.
Obscure films, like “Guarding Tess” and “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin,” are mentioned in hilarious fashion. Even if viewers aren’t familiar with these movies, they will find amusement in the fact that Cage has such diverse movies in his arsenal.
When “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is about the Nick Cage experience, it’s a total blast. When it veers into the CIA plot around a kidnapping, it loses steam. Director Tom Gormican (“That Awkward Moment”) and co-writer Kevin Etten (“Desperate Housewives,” “Scrubs”) mostly have an airtight script, but the third act unnecessarily adds plot points about Javi’s business, his cousin and the politics of a fictional Catalonia that detract the movie from its meta path.
Even in these parts, the Cage-Pascal chemistry never falters and is easily the best part about the movie.
Both actors sink their teeth into their roles and convince the viewer they’re best friends. Some of the situations the pair find themselves in are over-the-top, but for the most part, it’s just two guys talking about their love for movies — and every bit of it is great. Javi introducing Nick to “Paddington 2” (a masterpiece) will have viewers in splits and wanting to watch it as soon as they get home.
Pascal (“The Mandalorian,” “Wonder Woman 1984”) has the makings of an excellent comedy actor. His timing is spot-on but it’s his facial reactions that make the difference. In a sequence where Javi and Nick are on acid, Pascal dials it up by screaming and crying. It never feels annoying, rather a testament to his passion for this project — just like his unique co-star.
While this is not Cage’s best performance, it encapsulates his career to this point.
Cage gives a funny and self-aware performance that works because he’s in on the joke. He understands what his work means for his fans. In a way, this performance is a gift to his fans that have stuck by him and he delivers the goods. He adds more “meta-ness” by playing a de-aged, “Wild at Heart” era alter ego — who constantly screams “Nicolas Motherf—ing Cage” — a ludicrous yet entertaining addition showing he isn’t afraid to make a joke at his expense.
“The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” isn’t a perfect movie, but it doesn’t have to be. Cage’s career is about doing every single type of genre and not finding the perfect one. This movie knows one thing and one thing only: this is Nicolas Cage’s world and we’re just living in it.
“The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” rated R, releases in theaters April 22.