Adrift somewhere between a Charlie Kaufman concept and “Point Break,” “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” seemingly checks off everything on the list of what is needed for a cult classic: Two Nicolas Cages fight and then make out with one another. End of list. Sadly, despite “hot” Cage-on-CGI-Cage action and the human special effect that is Pedro Pascal, it turns out a comedy also needs actual jokes.
Writer Kevin Etten and writer/director Tom Gormican cultivate an excellent breeding ground for funny without ever fornicating laughs. The conceit of having Cage play himself is aces. It’s great that he’s clearly willing to have fun poked at his bonkers filmography and grapple with the concept of celebrity as an addiction. But the fun is never poked, and it’s less “grappling” than a stoned-out game of Twister. Like a stand-up comedian without object permanence or attention span, the movie tells a lengthy, engaging setup that never…hey do you remember that time Nicolas Cage was in that one movie with Shirley MacLaine?
Thinner than a line of coke at an alleged Cawthorn orgy, the plot of “Massive Talent” is barely sufficiently functional. Cage (Cage) misses out on a coveted part and agrees to attend a birthday party for Javi Gutierrez (Pascal) for a million dollars. Two CIA agents, Martin (Ike Barinholtz) and Vivian (Timmy Haddish), convince Cage to spy on Javi, who seems like a super chill bro but allegedly does illegal arms deals when he’s not writing unproduced screenplays. The spying goes awry, including a cliched “accidental tranquilization” sequence that makes fools of us all for not demanding physical comedy from Cage earlier.
If you make a movie with Tiffany Haddish in which Tiffany Haddish does not tell a single joke, you have done opposite-comedy. Over and over again, “Massive Talent” seems just about to be hilarious. It’s Lucy, Charlie Brown, and a football only with Nicolas Cage, Pedro Pascal, and giggles. Was there some kind of studio warning not to finish a punchline? Was someone afraid that if a full joke got told, someone on the internet would bring up how Jared Leto is the best Joker? Speaking of Leto, which no one should do on purpose, Cage has gone full decades being a whack-a-doodle on screen with few assertions from costars that he should be whacked on his doodle off-screen. He deserved better than this.
So too does Pascal, who is almost violently likable here. He comes damn close to single-handedly willing the film into likability with him. Damn you, Pedro! Damn you and your pinchable cheeks! All “Massive Weight” had to do was more than observe. Don’t just replicate the climax of a Cage action movie, comment on it. Satirize it. Deconstruct it. Not to get all “Simulation and Simulacra” up in here, but if you act like “Tango and Cash,” you aren’t parodying “Tango and Cash,” you’re just being “Tango and Cash.” Shit. That was three “Tango and Cash” mentions. Does anyone know if Bloody Mary or Beetlejuice rules apply here? If you don’t see a review from me next week, I’ve been Tangoed or Cashed. I blame Nicolas Cage.
Grade = C-
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Gayle Sequeira at Film Companion says “The transition between both halves of the film is abrupt and erratic, which makes sense given that it’s keeping pace with an actor who’s kept audiences guessing for decades.”
Weiting Liu at Mediaversity Reviews says “it pushes back against the myth of white male ‘genius’ and reminds us that great art does not have to come at the cost of others’ well-being.”
Kristy Puchko at Mashable says “This premise seems ripe for the kind of outrageousness fans crave from Cage. So why is it so underwhelming?”