Like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Christopher Walken, Nicolas Cage is an actor anyone can imitate. Nobody plays Nick Cage better than Nick Cage, however. With a distinct delivery and arsenal of bizarre faces, Cage has become the king of meme culture. Sometimes people wonder whether Cage is in on the joke. With The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, Cage demonstrates just how self-aware he can be. The film is a celebration of Cage’s career and a critique of its clichés. Cage isn’t afraid to make fun of himself, but it never comes off as too mean-spirited. After all, even when Cage is at his worst, he’s kind of at his best.
Cage plays himself. Well, not exactly. As of writing, the real Cage has two grown sons, one of whom is named Kal-El. In this film, Cage has a teenage daughter named Addy (Lily Sheen). In this case, real life is stranger than fiction. Where the real Cage has been married five times, he only has one ex-wife here. It’s a missed opportunity that they didn’t get Patricia Arquette or Lisa Marie Presley to play his ex, although Sharon Horgan is always a delight. While his family life is alerted, the film is faithful to Cage’s career and money woes. Despite saying yes to virtually every role that comes his way, Cage finds himself struggling financially. At the request of his agent (Neil Patrick Harris), Cage agrees to appear at a birthday party for $1 million. In due course, he accepts the role of a lifetime.
Cage’s client is Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal), a billionaire who’s seen one too many of his movies. Javi is also an aspiring filmmaker, wanting nothing more than for Cage to read his screenplay. It isn’t long until fiction and reality merge with the two improvising scenes right out of a Jerry Bruckheimer production. As Cage starts developing a friendship with Javi, he’s approached by two CIA agents played by Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz. They inform Cage that Javi is involved in a kidnapping, enlisting the actor to go undercover. The setup is preposterous, but that’s precisely what you’d want from a movie where Cage goes full meta.
The undercover angle warrants comparison to Cage classics like Face/Off, Con Air, and Kiss of Death. Massive Talent is chockfull of references to other Cage films, from hits like Gone in 60 Seconds to more obscure titles like Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. And yes, there’s a nod to Wicker Man and the bees. There’s even what might be a deep cut homage to Adaptation with Cage playing a younger, imaginary version of himself. Somehow, the de-aging effects on Cage are better than any we’ve seen in the Star Wars franchise. Similar to Tropic Thunder or Hot Fuzz, what starts as a satire cleverly snowballs into a legit action picture that embraces its roots.
While it’s not easy matching Cage’s unhinged energy, Pascal is more than up to the challenge in what ends up being an uproarious buddy comedy. It may be the best chemistry Cage has had with another actor since Sean Connery in The Rock. Haddish, Barinholtz, and Harris are funny in their scenes, although they all get sidelined. The villain is also fairly straightforward for a film with so many other memorable players. These qualms aside, Massive Talent is a hilarious addition to what we can safely call the Cagaissance. After years in the direct-to-video realm, Cage has come roaring back with ambitious films like Pig and now this. He probably won’t win another Oscar for playing himself, but if anyone can do it, it’s Cage.