Reports of Nicolas Cage’s “comeback” have been greatly exaggerated. Yes, that’s mainly because, as Cage himself — playing a daffier version of himself — says a few times in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” “I was never gone.“
Sure, he’s been working constantly, turning in C-movies like “Mandy,” “Jiu Jitsu,” “Prisoners of the Ghostland,” “Army of One,” three or four of them a year going back decades. It’s just that almost all have been undemanding, disposable junk unfitting for an Oscar winner like himself.
He and Cuba Gooding Jr. should have regular lunch dates to bitch about this.
But this new fanboyish lark could and should be a rare hit outside of Cage’s sensitive and funny voice work on the animated “Croods” movies. It just isn’t all that. It begins with great, goofy promise and ends with a bang. It’s the middle acts and “plot complications” that drag it down.
Don’t go expecting some deep existential crisis facing a faded action star who, like his “Face/Off” co-star, sports hair and hair dye that aren’t fooling anybody any more.
There’s little “Being John Malkovich” whimsy and none of that film’s cracked inventiveness. Even scenes with the older Nic arguing with the young, longhaired, leather-jacked Nic (a great use of “de-aging”) of “Valley Girl,” “Peggy Sue Got Married” or “Rumble Fish” is more promising than hilarious.
Still, it plays. In pandering “fanboy inspired movie” terms, it’s closer to “Fanboys” than “Snakes on a Plane.” Sweet. Almost cute.
Cage plays the Nic Cage of pre-“Pig,” a celebrated actor beloved and warmly-mocked for his gonzo intensity, something he lays out for an indie director whom he flatters by mentioning “Lear” in reference to his script, and then blows the meeting by laying out a Nic Cage intense reading of a scene from the movie, unprompted.
There are laugh-out-loud moments like this right from the start, and cute bits of casting. Neil Patrick Harris is the prototypical “agent” of Hollywood lore, the one more prone to remind The Man of his debts than his talent. That comes up after Cage handles his latest disappointment with an announcement he wants that agent to put “in the trades.”
“I’m retired.” He aspires to simplicity, to “live the life of a house cat.”
No dice. There’s your hotel bill… But this Spanish fan will pay him $1 million to show up for his Mallorca birthday party. And that’s how Nic meets “the Spanish Dr. No,” an underworld figure of staggering wealth, a serious boner for his favorite action star and the name Javi Gutierrez.
Pairing Cage with Pedro Pascal as his rich, shady and probably ruthless new “friend,” is the most inspired element of “Unbearable Weight.” Shedding his “Mandalorian” helmet once more, proving that his “almost the only funny guy in Judd Apatow’s ‘The Bubble'” turn was no fluke, Pascal and Cage click like Javi and Cage, a rich mobster who just wants his hero to “read my script.”
The movie has them debating the merits of this or that screenplay necessity or cheesy Hollywood convention, looking for something more than a “Donnie Brasco” touch as they concoct their own script and bond like the macho hombres they both aspire to be.
Assuming his new pal is the action stud of the “National Treasure,” “Con Air” and “The Rock” movies is a mistake.
“That was the stunt team,” Cage takes pains to correct.
The secondary plot has a couple of CIA agents (reunited “Oath” co-stars Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz), luring Cage into helping them locate the teen daughter of a Spanish politician that Javi’s gang supposedly is holding hostage.
That’s a necessary plot complication that doesn’t add much in the way of laughs.
What works here is the buddy bonding stuff and the endless Cage goofs on his reputation — impulsive, a spendthrift, intense to the point of self-parody at work, with a personal life that’s a lot more complicated than having a single ex (Irish spitfire Sharon Horgan of TV’s “Catastrophe” and “This Way Up”) and a single bored-with-Dad’s-narcissism teen daughter (Lily Mo Sheen).
Shoot-outs, chases, leaping off cliffs and saving the day? All givens. Whatever else “Unbearable Weight” is, it’s a “Nic FRIGGGGGGGGIN’ CAGE” movie.
And it’s funny enough so long as Cage and Pascal are bromancing their way towards that big pay off/stand-off, the one you’ve seen in all the trailers because, let’s face it, it sells “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.”
“I’ll never forget you, man!”
The movie? Cage’ll make better ones than this, and probably funnier ones. And so will Pascal.
Rating: R for language throughout, some sexual references, drug use and violence.
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Pedro Pascal, Sharon Horgan, Lily Mo Sheen, Neil Patrick Harris, Ike Barinholtz and Tiffany Haddish.
Credits: Directed by Tom Gormican, scripted by Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten. A Lionsgate release.
Running time: 1:47