“Nicholas. Fucking king. Cage.” These words evoke an idea of transcendent madness. If I’m reading the piece correctly, Cage is the only actor to turn hundreds of video-on-demand movies a year into an art form. He was initially ridiculed, but the perseverance earned the kind of respect “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” pays.
The movie is the result of people noticing Cage again. Admittedly, I feel a bit defensive. My sect is potentially under attack. Yes, Cage does a lot of awful movies, but anyone paying attention knows that he currently does his best work at least once every two years. Not a bad batting average. He won his Oscar for ‘Leaving Las Vegas,’ but for my money, as someone who knows intimately what drug addiction is like, he got a lot deeper, a lot more lyrical, a lot bolder, into a stale alcoholic in “Mandy”. He’s amazing in “Joe,” which is sort of referenced here, “Mommy and Daddy,” “Dog Eat Dog,” and yes, even the evil movie “Wally’s Wonderland.”
The secret to understanding modern Nic Cage is to recognize that he overindulges as a gateway to the soul. In our relentlessly self-aware drive, the actor seems most concerned with honing his mark, a kind of physical breadth that includes an extremely hyper-verbal syncopation. His line readings are often flamboyantly mad, making poetry out of nothing. The source of its appeal is its ironic commitment. And that’s my catch with “Unbearable Weight,” which is about irony.
While the image is poignantly affectionate at times, it’s mostly a wink that inadvertently belittles Cage. It’s a Cage movie that puts Cage in a cage. THE EXPLOSIVENESS, the eerie, volcanic, oddly personal line readings that Cage aficionados relish as a kind of B-movie jazz, are mostly missing here. In “Unbearable Weight,” he does his “coping” thing: congratulating us on knowing about his career and mannerisms. Self-awareness belittles Cage. At its best, it speaks of unresolved and ugly emotions. His character’s drinking relapse, after learning that his wife died in ‘Mandy’, is one of the finest, most daring and truthful acting plays I’ve personally seen in the past 20 years.
Cage is breaking our rules. He’s a superman, once literally ready to play Superman, who speaks in a sort of West Coast version of silent film poetry. “Unbearable Weight” is about the idea that Cage is no longer the guy who makes Jerry Bruckheimer movies. It’s about Cage showing us that he understands that he’s often celebrated and mocked for his hyper-stylization. As a shameless Cageholic, I find spoof-slash excuses superfluous.
Lots of throat clearing in this review. Because our Cage baggage is the whole point of the film. In this film, Cage is a has-been who needs a check. His real-life tax issues are referenced and he decides to take a million bucks to be a weekend buddy with a likely cartel guy, Javi (Pedro Pascal). The guy is a rabid Nic Cage fan who has internalized his most famous movies, especially “Con Air” and “Face/Off.” Eventually, the film turns into a classic Cage-style orgy: hostage takings, chases, and more.
Pascal is wonderful here in an essentially thankless role. He may be playing a drug dealer, but he’s meant to reflect the audience’s respect for Cage. It does that and more, giving fan worship a hint of contemporary obsession. Pascal is the opposite of Cage in that he is never caught playing. He throws absurd curveballs that keep the legend on his toes. And the legend is receptive. Both guys have great unforced chemistry.
Why don’t I like this movie more? I may be done with the meta. “Massive Weight” is not a real rager, aka Cager. Even in his shittiest films, Cage exorcises himself – his devotion to making kitsch real is the sole reason for his current fame. There’s no exorcism in “Massive Weight,” he’s cute and knows what he’s doing. Cage gives a good conventional performance, but the obsession is not there. He does more original work even in forgettable nonsense like “Grand Isle.”
Director Tom Gormican and co-writer Kevin Etten don’t offer Cage a single real catharsis. They are primarily concerned with restoring his Bruckheimer stock status, a goal they are achieving. But who wants this deeply original actor to become a simple figurine again? Probably a lot of people. This movie is for them.