*/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras B+
starring Nicolas Cage, Pedro Pascal, Sharon Horgan, Tiffany Haddish
written by Tom Gormican & Kevin Etten
directed by Tom Gormican
by Bill Chambers There's a lot I don't understand about Tom Gormican's The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent that has nothing to do with its alleged postmodernism. I don't understand why Nicolas Cage, David Gordon Green, and Demi Moore play "themselves" while Neil Patrick Harris, who plays himself in everything, does not. I don't understand the point of Green playing himself--that is to say, I don't understand the point of the director character being David Gordon Green, since a) he's just an avatar for clout one doesn't necessarily associate with Green, b) his prior relationship with Cage is never excavated or exploited (they made the not-uninteresting Joe together in 2013), and c) it's doubtful that enough viewers will know who Green is to justify the casting. I don't understand Green's reaction to Cage's impromptu audition, either, whether his awed "Jesus" is because he's blown away, appalled, or reacting to an actor--a star--of Cage's calibre grovelling to the director of The Sitter and Halloween Kills. I don't understand why the movie spells Nic Cage's name "Nick Cage": if it's to separate onscreen "Nick" from offscreen "Nic," then why has Nick appeared in all the same stuff as Nic? That "k," like The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent itself, ersatzes Cage. This movie isn't meta or satire, it's the Dollar Store version of an American original.
Nick Cage, that guy from Con Air, appears to be going through a mid-life crisis. (Let's pretend 58 is "mid-life.") Because he's a workaholic whose career anxieties seem to have cost him his marriage to Olivia (Sharon Horgan) and hobbled his relationship with his 16-year-old daughter, Addy (Lily Sheen, real-life offspring of Kate Beckinsale and Michael Sheen), he's thinking of quitting acting. Olivia tells him to get his shit together for Addy's sake, a direct that will first require him, in a feint to the real Cage, to rid himself of the unbearable weight of massive debt--although Nick's problem is that he's run up a $600,000 divorced-guy tab at the Sunset Tower, not that the IRS has him in a chokehold over bad real estate decisions. Nick agrees to be the guest of honour at a birthday party in Majorca for billionaire Javi Gutierrez (hammy Pedro Pascal), a superfan who maintains a shrine to Cage featuring props from his films like the chainsaw from Mandy. (In one of the few moments that feels true to form, Cage asks how much Javi paid for a "grotesque," "disturbing" life-size replica of Face/Off's Castor Troy: "About $6000," Javi says, to which Cage replies, "I'll give you $20,000 for it.") Javi and Nick bond over their shared affection for Nicolas Cage, but the CIA (i.e., Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz) interrupts the honeymoon to recruit Nick as a spy. Javi, they tell him, is a notorious arms dealer responsible for kidnapping a politician's daughter (Katrin Vankova), so Nick agrees to collaborate on a screenplay with Javi as an excuse to stick around. Before you can say "hijinks ensue," Javi flies Olivia and Addy to his villa in the hopes it will be therapeutic for his idol, though Nick interprets it as a threat.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a buddy movie in the vein of Alan Arkin-Peter Falk comedies and a busy-dad-shaming movie out of the Adam Sandler playbook. What it's not is a useful commentary on Cage's mystique, or stardom in general, or modern fandom (apart from whatever it's saying by having a rich person rent a celebrity for the weekend). I keep thinking about how Javi's supposed to be an arms dealer--he's actually just a figurehead for his criminal cousin Lucas (Paco León), which in this movie's calculus is forgivable because Pascal and Cage are cute together--and how nobody, from Javi to Nick's handlers to Nick himself, draws the line back to Andrew Niccol's Lord of War, in which Cage is an Israeli gunrunner with family problems and the Feds on his tail. Then there's the character of "Nicky," who's supposed to be Cage in his wild, impetuous youth, back when he would eat live roaches and have teeth pulled for his art. De-aging trickery combines with a committed evocation on Cage's part to channel the actor's days of baby fat and James Dean stooping; the manifestation of Nick's narcissism, Nicky, billed under Cage's given name ("Nicolas Kim Coppola"), shows up occasionally to taunt him with pep talks that sound like Eric Roberts pumping himself up in front of the mirror in Star 80. This fear of complacency Nicky's projecting makes perfect sense if he's talking to Nic Cage, the eccentric who named his son Kal-El (Superman's Kryptonian moniker), but he isn't: he's talking to the at-best zany Nick Cage, the one with a sitcom ex-wife and a Judy-Moody teen named Addy. However reminiscent his out-of-touchness is of Cage's own, trying to picture Nick Cage petting Nic Cage's two-headed snake is like trying to picture Ward Cleaver listening to Wu-Tang Clan. An artist's loaded shotgun in the hands of toddlers, Nicky succeeds only in transgressing that fine line Spın̈al Tap demarcated between clever and stupid.
Charlie Kaufman would've made something out of a monster from the id like Nicky resisting The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent's Lionsgate spackle--and indeed he did in the vastly superior Adaptation., where Cage portrays identical twins, neither of whom is Nicolas Cage but one of whom is a brutally self-effacing caricature of Kaufman, whose worst fears about the film industry are embodied by a brother with no real-life counterpart, Donald, who eventually dies so that Charlie Kaufman can live, literally and metaphorically. (Adaptation. is so committed to the bit that "Donald Kaufman" is credited with co-writing the screenplay and received an Academy Award nomination alongside Charlie.) The funny thing is, watching Adaptation., it's easy to believe that Cage, who was in a cooling-off period from his action-hero peak at the time, took the role(s) because the same debates Kaufman was having with himself--art vs. commerce, tank vs. horse--were raging inside Cage. It feels auteurist on Cage's part in a way The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, quite miraculously, does not. When Nicky mocks Nick for becoming the kind of actor the Duplass Brothers would cast as "the gay uncle" in their next movie, it's not an earnest contemplation of an aging star's evolution but a joke at the expense of the Duplass Brothers, one that feels about ten years too late besides. When the film shows a clip from Guarding Tess, a gentle dramedy starring Cage as a Secret Service agent assigned to protect a former First Lady (Shirley MacLaine), it's to mock the picture's incongruity next to the Con Airs on Cage's resume rather than celebrate the versatility of his choices or indict the pop-culture dementia that's reduced him to a human meme. It's one thing to be irreverent, another thing to end this Tom Sawyer funeral with the characters wistfully watching...Paddington 2.
THE 4K UHD DISC
Lionsgate brings The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent to 4K UHD disc in a 2.39:1, 2160p transfer with Dolby Vision and HDR10 encoding. (Note that this 4K release is, at present, not available in Canada.) The UHD presentation benefits from an A/B comparison to the included Blu-ray: it's sharper than the alternative, and the extended colour gamut eases the yellow patina of the SDR version, making for an altogether more robust palette. Colour accents like the red lenses of Nick's sunglasses really pop in 4K, and though the HDR highlights are strangely reserved (at least in HDR10), the image has a radiance it simply does not possess in 1080p. This is not a particularly good-looking film, yet there are moments it's almost handsome in UHD. Downmixed to 7.1 Dolby TrueHD, the attendant Atmos track struck me as a crystal-clear rendering of a rote action-comedy mix. The sound designers create environments that are spatially and acoustically persuasive and might be of some ASMR value, especially with the addition of height channels. But the gunfights sound how the movie looks: like high-end television.
Supplementary material is the same on both the 4K and 2K platters. Start with a commentary teaming director/co-writer Tom Gormican and co-writer Kevin Etten, veterans of the low-rated, fatally-retooled, and ultimately cancelled Fox series "Ghosted". They claim that David Gordon Green was the only director willing to show up on someone else's set circa COVID and say they based Nicky's look on how Cage was attired during a subsequently viral appearance on the UK's "Wogan" back in the early '90s. (That's the one where he came out doing karate kicks and throwing money at the studio audience.) The pair talks about the struggle to acknowledge Nick's ego without alienating us or Cage himself, and I think they achieve it, but to what end? We learn the L.A. stuff was shot in Budapest--which is obvious in retrospect, though it's still startling to hear it, as is Gormican's admission that he never met Neil Patrick Harris in person because COVID protocols forced him to stay in a hotel room on those days and oversee the shoot remotely. Honestly, this is a valuable yakker in a time-capsule sense, as there aren't many first-hand accounts of the pandemic's impact on film production that have had the freedom to go into this much depth.
HiDef video-based extras begin with a 5-minute block of deleted scenes featuring optional Gormican/Etten commentary, the most noteworthy of which is a monochrome tribute to the oft-mentioned The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (with a soupçon of the unrelated Sin City thrown in for good measure). Very likely one of the key ingredients that drew Cage to the project in the first place, it's a buzzworthy feast for the eyes. Naturally, the studio insisted on cutting it. Nicky, for what it's worth, is a seamless effect in stark black-and-white. There's also an elided exchange from early on in Javi and Nick's relationship where Gormican explains that COVID protocols led to Cage inventing the "Bruce Lee salute" that's used throughout the film in lieu of handshakes. Gormican appears on camera in "The Mind" (7 mins.), less a spotlight on the director than a rundown of his casting decisions despite the title referring to Cage's nickname for him. (Lily Sheen touches on the movie's autobiographical resonance for her specifically.) Gormican gets a bit big for his britches in "Glimmers of a Bygone Cage" (5 mins.), suggesting the film's genre-hopping reflects the arc of Cage's career. Here, the filmmakers reveal Easter eggs and revisit the pivotal homage to German Expressionism deemed too sophisticated for American moviegoers by the powers that be.
"Everybody Needs a Javi" (4 mins.) conflates Javi with the man playing him, self-described lifelong-Nicolas-Cage-fan-going-back-to-Rumble-Fish Pedro Pascal, while in "Nick, Nicky, and Sergio" (5 mins.), Cage goes on record that Nicky was the hook that reeled him in. Possibly fearful of demystifying the Nick/Nicky stuff, the featurette treads lightly in recapping the technical rigours of multiplying Cage, who observes that this is somehow the first time in his 42-year career he's acted under significant prosthetics (referring to the disguise he wears as an Italian cartel boss late in the picture). "Second Act Action" (7 mins.) again finds Gormican, et al. patting themselves on the back a tad too emphatically for a conventional mid-film swerve from comedy to action that describes half of all '80s movies. "Nick Cage Auditions: 04-22-2022" (2 mins.) is a "Kids Say the Darndest Things"-ish montage of children dressed as Nicolas Cage characters and reciting famous lines from his films. First up? A blonde, blood-smeared tyke wearing the tiger shirt from Mandy. It's funny, I guess (the Moonstruck kid, who comes complete with a Cher impersonator, is gold)--a little easy, but funnier than anything in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. Lastly, praise Jesus, a "SxSW Festival Q&A" (16 mins.) rehashes anecdotes that are old-hat by now, the only novelty being that an audience is there to applaud them this time around. It's sad when Cage reflects on the Calagari showstopper and then says, "Hopefully you'll get to see it on Blu." If I'm at a film festival and an actor is lamenting absent footage, I'm asking for my money back. As decent as this supplementals package is, shame on Lionsgate for continuing the practice of not subtitling bonus features for the hearing impaired. A voucher for a digital copy of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent comes bundled with the discs.
107 minutes; R; UHD: 1.85:1 (2160p/MPEG-H), Dolby Vision/HDR10, BD: 1.85:1 (1080p/MPEG-4); English Dolby Atmos (7.1 Dolby TrueHD core), French DD 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1; English, English SDH, French Spanish subtitles; BD-100 + BD-50; UHD: Region-free, BD: Region A; Lionsgate