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'The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent' works *because* of its talent

Nicolas Cage ("Nick Cage," left) and Pedro Pascal ("Javi," right) escape their enemies in THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT
Karen Ballard
Nicolas Cage ("Nick Cage," left) and Pedro Pascal ("Javi," right) escape their enemies in THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT

It seems like a tricky proposition to make a whole movie around a famous actor playing himself. Yes, an exception would be with something plainly brilliant, like Being John Malkovich, but this approach feels better served when its in a cameo role, a short burst of fun that doesn’t overstay its welcome. An entire movie? That’s maybe too much.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is neither brilliant nor restrained in its use of its star, Nicolas Cage. But much to my delight, it turns out to be downright enjoyable, precisely because of Cage’s massive talent. The actor plays a fictional version of himself, one who’s fallen on hard times and struggles in his relationship with his daughter and ex-wife. He’s just decided to quit acting entirely when he receives a million-dollar offer to attend the birthday party of a Spanish billionaire played by Pedro Pascal. It turns out Pascal has also written a screenplay for Cage, which kind of morphs into the two of them collaborating on a new script, all while danger and intrigue swirl around due to a weapons cartel, the CIA, and a politician’s kidnapped daughter.

The chemistry between Cage and Pascal is wondrous, their friendship feels so pure, but while there’s plenty to laugh at, many of the jokes do feel fairly predictable for this kind of movie—there are only so many times characters can address Nicolas Cage by his full name during casual conversation before it wears a little thin. And there aren’t a ton of unexpected plot developments, either—the writing is easily the movie’s weakest point, and the film itself simply wouldn’t be strong enough to stand if it weren’t for Nicolas Cage.

But Cage is here, and he’s so smart about who he is as an actor, and also about what people expect from him as an actor, that he can lean into those expectations while still tickling us with surprise. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent may have indeed been too much to bear with a lesser talent, but Nicolas Cage is more than enough to hold it up.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is in theaters.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.