The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
Directed by Tom Gormican
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Pedro Pascal, Tiffany Haddish, Ike Barenholz
The film made big waves when it premiered at SXSW this year, with many viewers claiming it showcased Nicolas Cage’s career-best performance. Cage has starred in a string of stellar indie films lately, yet this one seemed particularly special. Cage poking fun at his wild career, along with a heap of meta-reference jokes, elevated the action comedy for many in attendance.
The reaction since has cooled some, but Massive Talent still has an 87% critic score and a 90% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Nicolas Cage is doing… fine. His A-list days are behind him, but his agent keeps trying to get him a comeback role. Miss after disheartening miss wears Cage down until he’s forced to accept a birthday party gig on an island in Majorca. After that, he’s quitting acting.
His greatest role, however, is about to begin. As he gets off the plane, two CIA agents mark him heading to the home of Javier, a dangerous arms dealer, the same man who hired Cage for his birthday! They recruit him to take down Javier’s empire and save a recently kidnapped political prisoner.
That can’t be right, though, because Nic and Javier hit it off almost immediately. Could Javier really be an evil mastermind?
Before the dust settles, Nicholas Cage will have to rely on the action-movie experience that made him a star.
Fittingly, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is the perfect encapsulation of Cage’s career: wildly uneven, but when it hits, it’ll shatter your funny bone.
This movie contained scenes that made me laugh harder than I have in years… then followed them up with 15 minutes of utter boredom or confusion. The plot meanders so much that I paused the movie when the inciting incident (a filmmaking term for when the movie kicks into gear) occurred: 29 minutes. By contrast, Bullet Train, the most recent action comedy I saw before this, was past their first station and past their first kill.
Additionally, this movie is chock full of talented performers–much of them wasted by serving plot-functional roles that vomit exposition. Regardless of her unearthed scandal (from which I hope she receives appropriate consequences), Tiffany Haddish is acutely funny when given the right material. Here, she’s given dry commands like “Get to the security room!” or “Wait for orders!” Literally any competent actor could have played that role. Separately, Neil Patrick Harris is sidelined, showing up in only three brief scenes as Cage’s masochistic agent. Far from suggesting the movie warps itself to accommodate more screen time for Harris, I wonder why they brought him aboard for such a small part. Both instances just feel like fumbled opportunities.
Another fumbled choice? The editing (a fault that may actually lie with the director). While the action scenes were competently strung together, the story was needlessly confusing. Many times, a scene would leave me wondering, “Okay, what’s going on with which characters?” only to have the next scene jump too far ahead in time, making me feel like I’d gone to the bathroom and missed an important detail. One example is when Nic Cage gets pitched to be a CIA agent. He hasn’t said yes; we don’t know what the parameters are. The next scene, however, has us halfway through his first mission, trying to achieve an objective the audience hasn’t even heard of. Rug pulling like this is frequent, and, besides boredom, an irked, confused audience is the LAST thing a movie needs.
No, but only because this movie caters to Nic Cage super fans. My mom watched this movie with me, and I laughed at many of the throwaway lines referencing Cage’s deep cuts. (One line towards the end connects an outfit accessory to an infamous line from his Wicker Man remake–I almost did a spit take upon hearing it.) Meanwhile, my mom clocked the older references–Con-Air and Face/Off in particular–even faster than I did. The story clearly has deep, bizarre love for a deeply bizarre actor.
The great irony of this love-letter of a movie, then, is that Cage isn’t the best part–Pedro Pascal is. Playing the goofy, billionaire fanboy, Pascal imbues such golden retriever energy into every moment of his screen time that any part away from him felt dimmer. A particular sequence involving drugs, suspicious locals, and a support wall had both my mother and I rolling! Naturally, this was followed by 10 minutes of disappointment because the plot needed to lurch along or a scene needed to be awkwardly paced.
I imagine most viewers will agree when I say the movie’s highs are stratospheric, creativity igniting the screen. The lows in between those moments, though, send us crashing back down with disappointment. crafted by more skilled hands, Massive Talent could have sent us to the moon.
That’s Nicolas Cage for you: brilliant… with the right people at the helm.