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‘The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent’ (Blu-ray review)

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is an American action-comedy starring Nicolas Cage and Pedro Pascal.
The film is most notable for employing a narrative device where star Nicolas Cage essentially plays himself, and so all action in the piece is not just taken at face value, but as a meta commentary of the actor and filmmakers on the actor’s career and behavior in the “real world.”
The only other film this reviewer is aware of that employs a similar conceit is the staggeringly underrated 2008 drama JCVD.

Nick Cage, in this film, is portrayed as a once A-list movie star who is desperate for a great part after years of taking anything that came his way to satisfy his need for emotional validation, and to mitigate his ludicrous spending habits.

As the film opens, he’s reached a crisis: his confidence is shot, he’s self-absorbed at the expense of his family, his continued mismanagement of his own finances haunts him, and he’s regularly confronted by the specter of his own fame in the person of an alternate personality (Cage) that represents himself at his own professional height. His agent (Neil Patrick Harris, playing his standard character) fields an offer from a Spanish billionaire, Javi (Pascal) for Cage to be his birthday guest at his villa in Spain for a monster pay day and Cage accepts, simply as a matter of clearing up his accumulated debts.

Cage begins the vacation jet lagged and completely morose, but just as Cage and Javi begin to bond over a hilarious mutual appreciation of the film Paddington 2, Cage is approached by a pair of CIA agents and told that Javi is an arms dealer and terrorist and asked to aid in their investogation. Cage soon finds himself and his family in a story that resembles his 90’s action classics, Face/Off or Con Air (both of which are name dropped heavily in this film) and must discover the true bad guys, make peace with himself, and save his family.

The degree to which you enjoy The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is really going to depend on whether you see Cage’s central performance as either a ridiculous self-indulgence or witty self-parody.

I compared this film above to the excellent JCVD, but while the conceit is identical the execution is almost entirely different. JCVD is the story of a self-described crap artist transcending the limitations others had placed on him and using his real pain and failure as fuel for a performance that no one believed he was capable of. There is a real sense of tragedy in that film behind all the easy jokes about action movie directors and cocaine because we get layers that we never knew existed and we’re forced to reckon with this guy who we’ve seen as a clown as a man and an artist.

Nicolas Cage is a superlative actor who has been in more excellent films than most actors ever appear in at all (one of the funnier subtle jokes in the film is that seemingly everyone has a different movie they associate the actor with) and a tendency to take bold chances in his performances. We know he’s a great artist, and that his tendency to make crap art is more just a desire to keep working for reasons that it isn’t a critic’s place to speculate about. So his self-absorption and lack of confidence don’t come off like an actor bearing his scars to the world without the shield of a character, but a star playing with his own public perception. How much patience you have for something like that is up to you.

What isn’t up for debate is this yet another coming out party for Pedro Pascal, a likable and naturalistic actor who is at home in any genre and seems to me to be one role away from his own super-stardom.

Pascal finds a lot of humanity in Javi, and the very best sequences in the film are before the plot kicks in and the two actors get an opportunity to just have fun with one another. Between this, Narcos, and The Mandalorian I really am waiting for Pascal’s shot at anchoring a major AAA film because he’s built up a lot of goodwill and never seems to turn in a bad performance. Likewise, writer-director Tim Gormicon has made a slick and clever high-concept action thriller with a lot of charming performances and an eye for the style of guys like John Woo, and this reviewer is eager to see what the next project is from him.

Extras include audio commentary, deleted scenes, featurettes and a SXSW Film Festival Q & A.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent isn’t perfect, and if you accuse it of being a cock-eyed vanity project for both director and star, this critic doesn’t see much defense. However, it is charming, well-made, and clever and that’s enough to get a recommendation from this reviewer.

3½ out of 5 stars.

 

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