Director Tom Gormican and his cowriter Kevin Etten’s reverence for Nicolas Cage is on full display in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. So is their affection for the kind of action packed and occasionally aimless buddy comedies that Cage might’ve starred in 30 years ago without all the meta sprinklings. Oh, and there’s also a deep reservoir of digging Paddington 2.
Playing a fictionalized version of himself (he might even be more normal in this), Nicolas Cage is smarting from the loss of a movie role when he decides to give up acting. He’s also estranged from his 16-year-old daughter (Lily Sheen) and ex-wife (Sharon Horgan) – or is at least always making everything about himself. Facing financial woes as described by his agent (Neil Patrick Harris), he accepts a million dollar payday to jet to the Spanish Mediterranean. The assignment: hang out with billionaire Javi (Pedro Pascal), who may also be the head of a crime syndicate. His host is a huge fan of the actor and this allows for references to obvious titles like The Rock, Con Air, Face/Off and National Treasure. Most amusingly, the 1994 Secret Service romp Guarding Tess costarring Shirley MacLaine is given its share of exposure.
CIA agents Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz (two funny people given nothing funny to do) are convinced that Javi has kidnapped the daughter of a politician. His guest of honor is recruited with breaking her out. For much of the running time, Talent coasts on just that of Cage and Pascal. Their chemistry clicks as they start plotting their own screenplay which this often mirrors.
Unlike, say, the brilliant Being John Malkovich – Gormicon’s invention feels like more like a novelty item. Yet it is a frequently witty one mixed with a surprising amount of sincerity. In fact, I found myself wanting it to dig a bit deeper at times. The screenplay attempts to say something about its two protagonists always being forced to act like someone they’re not before it gets distracted by the next reference (The Bees!). In Cage’s massive filmography filled with triumphs, turkeys and Tess‘s, there’s an enjoyable enough catalogue to sift through.
*** (out of four)