Nicolas Cage appears in a film that reminds viewers of his other movies. The film opens with one of his more chaotic roles in Con Air and we’re reminded of his heroic history of film roles. We see a younger version of himself that acts as the voice of his ego, having a striking resemblance to his character in Wild at Heart. But, wait, wasn’t he speaking to himself in Adaptation with a polar-opposite double? And is he now using the same guns he had in Face/Off? If you’re a big Cage nerd, this film is a dream of references, meta-comedy, and a heartfelt ode to such an actor.
Cage plays himself in this meta-narrative. He’s feeling washed-up for failing to find that next big role for his career. He struggles with his divorce and his teenage daughter has grown tired of his sophisticated ego for cinema. Yet Cage keeps pursuing any job he can for that next big role that will save his life and pay off his debts. Nothing takes, even an interview with David Gordon Green where Cage tries to read a part in public with his acting dialed up to extreme levels.
With nobody wanting to hire him for another movie, he takes the only job available: attending a birthday party for his biggest fan. Located in Spain, the rich Javi (Pedro Pascal) has adored Cage for so long that he can’t believe he’s visiting him. That being said, Javi turns out to be that typical kinda awkward celebrity lover who is eager to push a screenplay in front of them. Thankfully, Javi turns out to be a little different. After all, he and Cage connect on a level he can’t find anywhere else, where Javi is more than happy to talk about Cage’s favorite picture of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligary. But also, Javi manages to open Cage’s mind to how fascinating a film Paddington 2 can be.
Cage’s trip grows more complicated and conflicted when he’s cornered by the CIA, the agents played by Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz. The two tell him that Javi is a criminal underworld leader who has kidnapped a missing woman. They task Cage with trying to infiltrate and uncover Javi’s darker secrets. It’s easy enough for him to do considering how well he hits it off with the eccentric fan. It’s a little creepy he has a room of all of Cage’s props, complete with a grotesque wax statue of his character in Face/Off, but Cage still seems to dig him.
The film proceeds down a somewhat expected route of Cage reviving his career with an adventure filled with guns and intrigue. What makes the film work beyond that tired premise is how the film critiques itself. Throughout the movie, Cage speaks about his love of movies with Javi but they’re really talking about the movie they occupy. This clever dialogue is made clear quite early in one of the first scenes, where Cage confesses during therapy that he’s tired of everyone saying he works too much, as though actors should just stop working after a few films.
Cage commits to writing a screenplay with Javi and the film becomes particularly pointed in its relation to Adaptation. The two speak of how they want to conceive of an adult drama but also become inspired to include a scene of the protagonists doing drugs. That inspiration came from them doing drugs. They speak about how a paranoia angle would be fun and then immediately become paranoid of the world around them. Cage will also speak critically of audience expectations, arguing that audiences won’t be into a movie by him unless it’s a Star Wars or Marvel affair. And yet he almost feels compelled to add in the action-oriented third act to maintain the audience’s attention.
There’s a playfulness to The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent that makes it succeed past the obvious Cage parody. It proceeds down a rather predictable route but has fun making commentary and self-aware gags along the way. The chemistry between Cage and Pascal is absolutely irresistible, where they play off each other beautifully. There’s just something so adorable when the two of them drink and cry while watching Paddington 2. It’s a film by movie nerds for movie nerds while also mocking movie nerds, making this far more than just a Cage roast fest.