HomeCommentaryNic Cage deserved better than 'Unbearable Weight'

Nic Cage deserved better than ‘Unbearable Weight’

This buddy comedy aims to be 'the most Nicolas Cage movie ever;' instead it's a been-there studio venture with little relation to Cage's ethos.

A movie about Nicolas Cage should really feel like a Nic Cage movie.

Cage’s larger-than-life, gonzo acting style — often described as being evocative of German Expressionism and surrealism and recently described by Cage himself as “Nouveau Shamanic” (both in his latest film and in real-life) — is ubiquitous in the American filmscape, even among casual movie-watchers, and has lent itself to iconic moments in bombastic action films, screwball comedies, and haphazard dramas and thrillers alike. A simple web search for his name will net countless images of his wild-eyed looks from Vampire’s Kiss and Face/Off. At this point, Cage the Meme is as pervasive as Cage the Actor.

This louder, showier approach to acting is by no means the only type of performance Cage is capable of (see Michael Sarnoski’s wonderful, contemplative slow-burner Pig, from last year), but it’s heavily associated with him as his calling card.

A film like The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, which clearly seeks to simultaneously lampoon and pay tribute to such a long career of colorful and memorable performances, ought to carry with it that same Cageian ethos. Over-the-top. Vibrant and expressive. Bizarre in both conceit and execution. If your goal is to make a film that honors Cage and stars Cage, it ought to exude and embrace Cage as well.

Unbearable Weight, instead, is a barebones studio comedy with a story, aesthetic, and collection of jokes so broad that Cage’s presence in the film could have been swapped out for any popular Hollywood eccentric. It’s not that it isn’t, at times, genuinely funny and sweet, or that there is no fun to be had from the chaotic scenarios Cage and his costar Pedro Pascal find themselves in. It’s just that, for “The Most Nicolas Cage Movie Ever,” it’s disappointingly cagey about being Cage-y.

Cage stars as a version of himself who is down on his luck, both in the acting world and in his personal life. He struggles to find work that he’s interested in, and his ex-wife and daughter want little to do with him, thanks to his narcissistic tendency to make every scenario about himself and his career. His agent, Fink (Neil Patrick Harris), receives a request from a wealthy Spanish entrepeneur named Javi (Pascal) to have Nic make an appearance at his birthday party. Nic wouldn’t normally be interested, but times are tough, and he’s ready to throw in the towel on acting anyway.

Upon arriving in Spain, Nic and Javi form an unexpected bond and mutual fascination. Javi’s genuine interest in Cage’s work beyond the greatest hits resonates with the actor’s self-absorption, and the two set about adventuring, imbibing, and conceiving vague ideas about the deeply moving film they’d love to try and make together.

Nic’s fast bromance with Javi is interrupted when two CIA agents (Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz) covertly make contact with him and request he act as informant for them. As it turns out, Javi runs one of the largest and most dangerous crime organizations in the world, and they need Nic’s help in taking him down.

It doesn’t sound entirely out of step with Cage’s high-concept action flicks like Con-Air or The Rock. It’s just that the premise is about where the “feeling like a Nic Cage movie” ends. Aside from a handful of references to Cage’s movies and the broader film industry, as well as a scene involving a secret shrine to Cage’s career, Unbearable Weight is a bog-standard buddy-comedy more akin to Central Intelligence or Cop Out than Being John Malkovich or even Last Action Hero.

Which is not to say it’s a terrible time. Pascal and Cage manage some genuinely cute chemistry and get up to some moderately amusing hijinks. It’s far from humorless or a slog to sit through.

But it’s all just so… rough-draft? From the joke-writing to the plotting, even to the staging of the spectacle, it’s as though no one gave any element of production (or pre-production) more than a passing thought. Whether it was not thoroughly conceived enough to begin with or heavily watered/edited down during production is hard to determine. But most of the running gags and story beats aren’t set up with enough comedic detail or emotional heft to be paid off in a funny or satisfying way. The more improvisational (or at least conversational) comedy only manages to make the occasional wobbly landing due to Cage’s and Pascal’s inherent goofy charisma.

I’m leaning toward the idea that things were watered down in post-production, as certain characters — like Barinholtz’ CIA agent, Martin — and story elements — like Nic’s hallucinatory alternate personality, a digitally-deaged Cage named Nicky — seem to inexplicably disappear from the film during its second and third acts.

Director Tom Gormican only has two directing credits and three writing credits to his name, and I feel it shows here, in not only the lack of ambition to tell a story that captures the essence of Cage’s career, but also in the execution of even basic jokes and scenes that we’ve seen countless times before.

It’s a shame, too, because Cage and Pascal seem to be having some genuine fun, gallivanting around Spain, tripping on drugs, and postulating generic philosophy about the power of cinema. With a better script and more controlled direction, perhaps their charm could have been shaped into something that felt truly like a celebration of all things Nicolas Cage. Instead, it’s a run-of-the-mill romp with a handful of entry-level Cage references.

Two major takeaways for me:

  1. Let’s see another massive, maniacal Cage performance on the big screen, in the hands of an assured, blockbuster director, like he was known for in the ‘90s. Get Cage and Michael Bay back together. It’s time.
  2. Pedro Pascal is a treasure who should be in more (and better) things. Here’s hoping The Last of Us is good.
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Wishes he could forego sleep to watch more movies. Besides co-hosting Odd Trilogies and writing reviews, Andy builds Gundam models, loves on his three cats, and spends way too much time managing his Plex server. You can follow his movie-watching habits on Letterboxd.

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