Review: Nicolas Cage admirably abides ‘The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent’

Two men ride in a jeep in the movie in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.”
Pedro Pascal, left, and Nicolas Cage in the movie “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.”
(Katalin Vermes / Lionsgate)

In “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” Nicolas Cage is back — not that he ever went away. That’s one of the oft-repeated observations made about Cage’s acting career in the meta-on-meta action comedy in which Nicolas Cage stars as Nicolas Cage, Hollywood star, tangled up in an international incident while reevaluating his life and life’s work.

This is a film about Nicolas Cage, for Nicolas Cage (and Nicolas Cage fans, ultimately), and it fundamentally would not work without Nicolas Cage being willing to poke a little fun at himself and his long career, full of transcendentally bonkers action movie performances, Oscar-winning roles and paycheck gigs alike. Cage is also the best thing in this movie, which is delightfully clever and funny when he is on-screen, and saggy and tedious when he’s not. While the self-referential Hollywood commentary is a blast (if a bit inside baseball), the actual action-comedy is thinly plotted, rote, guns-blazing nonsense.

Written by director Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten, “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” appeared on the 2019 Black List, the collection of the best unproduced screenplays in Hollywood. The writers sent the script to Cage with a note conveying their respect and reverence for the actor, and he agreed to sign on, which is not far from the plot of the film itself.


Nick (Cage) is floundering in his career, in the process of a divorce from Olivia (Sharon Horgan) and struggling in his relationship with 16-year-old daughter Addy (Lily Sheen). For a million-dollar paycheck, he reluctantly decides to take a gig attending a superfan’s birthday in Mallorca, but when he arrives, he learns that his host, said super fan Javi (Pedro Pascal), has a screenplay to pitch. Nick also discovers that two CIA agents (Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz) are hot on Javi’s tail, suspecting that he may have kidnapped a presidential candidate’s daughter, and they’re eager to make Nick an asset.

While Nick develops a relationship with Javi to relay intel back to the CIA, the two men decide to collaborate on their own screenplay, a “grounded adult drama” about their friendship, which adds an extra layer of meta to this already meta project. The best bits of the comedy revolve around references to Cage’s career and cracks about Hollywood, so this film will hit best with audiences in on the joke. The other comedic attempts fall a bit flat, and the action is the kind of perfectly serviceable, if unremarkable style that serves most midbudget action comedies these days.

The real spectacle of the film is Cage, who despite all the ups and downs in his career choices, is an undeniable Movie Star, and when he’s simply playing himself (or the heightened version of himself required here) he’s utterly compelling. This is a man who can make a YouTube interview wildly fascinating on any day of the week, so his screen presence has never been in question.

Thankfully, Cage and Pascal demonstrate infectious chemistry because both performers go for broke and embrace the silliness of the conceit. Pascal matches Cage’s energy, and that’s what makes their scenes work.

“The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” knows that what it has going for it is Nicolas Cage, and Nicolas Cage is what makes this otherwise forgettable comedy worth the watch. It’s not necessarily only for super fans, but super fans will be richly rewarded by this love letter to Cage, who, remember, never went away.

Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.


‘The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent’

Rating: R, for language throughout, some sexual references, drug use and violence

Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

Playing: Starts April 22 in general release