Unbearable Weight is the latest high-concept, one-joke movie, but it’s thankfully a funny enough joke to justify the film’s existence.
Nicolas Cage is Nicolas Cage — actually, Nick Cage — in Tom Gormican’s The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, a cheeky, sweet-natured comedy that can’t help but insist that you recall the Kaufman-esque heights of Adaptation, but which could only charitably be called “meta.” But yes, Nicolas Cage plays a fictionalized version of himself, sort of a combination of the real guy and his now heavily meme-ified persona. He’s down on his luck a little bit, desperate both for a cash infusion and a juicy role in a David Gordon Green-directed gangster picture (Green has an amusing cameo). He’s on the outs with his ex-wife (Sharon Horgan) and teenage daughter (Lily Mo Sheen), who think he’s a raging narcissist because of his genuine dedication to his craft. And he’s endlessly accosted by an imagined avatar of his fear and frustrations, who appears in the form of Nicky, a CGI de-aged Cage wearing a leather jacket and a Wild at Heart t-shirt.
When Nick gets an extremely lucrative offer to appear at a very rich fan’s birthday party in Spain, he can’t refuse. It’s in Mallorca that he meets Javi (Pedro Pascal), who at first seems like merely an eccentric, but who might actually be a vicious international crime boss. At least, that’s what CIA agent Vivian (Tiffany Haddish) tells Nick in the process of recruiting him to help bring the gangster down. Unfortunately, killer or not, Javi is an incredibly sweet guy who sincerely adores Cage and his work, and is eager to collaborate with him on an ambitious screenplay. It’s this relationship between the two men that is the heart of the movie. Nick and Javi have bona fide affection for each other, and it’s extremely cute to watch them simply hang out and bat ideas for their script back and forth. Both actors are clearly having a blast with their completely po-faced bromance (although, it must be said, Pascal seems to be relishing his half of the bargain even more than Cage, and frankly he’s out-doing his leading man). The constant references to Cage’s films (especially in a scene in which we discover Javi’s vault of memorabilia) are consistently good for a chuckle.
But despite being an undeniably very funny joke, Unbearable Weight is still pretty much just that one joke. Does it have anything novel to say, about acting, or about Cage? Not particularly. The third act action climax transpires exactly the way you know it will, dovetailing nicely into a final little epilogue that, more than anything else in this movie, references Adaptation in that the dopey movie our heroes made is finally revealed. If anything, this film is too under-ambitious, too under-stylized, to really make good on the promise of its concept. But as a vehicle for audiences to be reminded that Nic Cage is, despite what one may think of his prolific, often questionable filmography, one of our greatest and most committed living actors, it’s a pleasant and frequently funny lightweight diversion.