A demon to some and an angel to others. Like a Cenobite.
There’s little more pervasive and culturally universal than the legend of Nicolas Cage, an actor who has been so consistent in his ability to be completely erratic and mercurial that it seems nobody can pin him down. “Nicolas Cage: Good or Bad,” was the question posed by the TV series Community, eventually completely breaking the brain of the show’s resident cinephile, Abed Nadir, as he attempted to watch every single one of his films. The conclusion offered by the ever centered Shirley Bennett was that maybe he’s just something beyond simplicity, that the mystery of Nic Cage was destined to challenge us forever as we attempt to define what he is to us as individuals. A genius or an idiot, a demon or an angel, altogether something completely different than what any of us could hope to define in binary terms.
The legend has only grown over time, as Cage finds his way both in increasingly fascinating roles and as the wider cultural conversation continues to include him more. It feels almost inevitable that a film like The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent would come along some day, to stuff those two ideas into a blender and find what comes of the cocktail of the mythical actor playing himself in a film that seeks to interrogate his long standing status as a volatile icon of filmic insanity. The result, disappointingly, is that the resulting cocktail isn’t all that remarkable. The result is all premise and no payoff, an interesting idea with nothing to actually stick to it and make it all mean anything. The result is something that’s little more than lip service and a surface level punchline, a joke that reads as “here’s Nicolas Cage, he’s playing himself, isn’t that funny?”
In his fictionalized life within the film, Cage is drowning. He’s failing to be cast in the life changing roles he desires, slowly slipping away from the headlines. His relationship with his daughter Addy (Lily Mo Sheen) is tense and strained (tragically for Cage, it turns out many 16 year olds are not particularly fond of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari 1920)), and he maintains a friendly but ultimately exasperated relationship with his ex-wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan). Separated from his family, he’s also drowning in debt after staying in a luxury hotel for months on end, and having lost yet another role, he’s left with only one opportunity: to travel to the sunny island of Mallorca and be paid to attend the birthday party of the independently wealthy Javi (Pedro Pascal). There’s plenty here to latch onto, as the film crafts its own version of Cage’s myth and mystery, even dialling it up to eleven as his character hallucinates a younger version of himself who’s all ego and no self-doubt, screaming with enthusiasm and motivation.
This setup promises fun, it promises something that is equivalent to the volatile absurdity that is Nic Cage, something that is out there and maybe edges into the realm of the surreal. It seems, after all, that going completely all in on what Cage has to offer is the only way to go, as proven by films like Mandy (2018), which is so reliant on his manic persona devolving into complete insanity in the face of cosmic blood and metal-tinged horror. But nothing here quite goes all in or understands how to properly utilize the legend of Cage, and nothing here manages to come anywhere close to the surrealism necessary to match its potential. Instead, the film is little more than a contrived buddy spy comedy, full of jokes and moments that feel both entirely tired and familiar as well as frustratingly outdated. Most of what happens here would fit in a film released a decade or more ago, and not so much now. Cage is recruited by the CIA to investigate Javi, who is supposedly a secret drug kingpin who has kidnapped the daughter of a local politician. Hijinks, of course, ensue, and are mostly centered around characters either accidentally or intentionally ingesting different forms of drugs. It’s Get Smart (2008), it’s The Other Guys (2010), it’s 21 Jump Street (2012). It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, when all you want is something new and different.
It’s not without its charms, not without its scattered moments of genuine hilarity or fun, and every once in a while the sun shines through and the film and Cage click in step, and the matching energy is a delight. Javi and Cage becoming fast friends is as endearing as anything thanks to the relentlessly upbeat energy provided by Pascal. Finally, Cage finds someone to bond over Dr. Caligari with, and Javi introduces him to the cinematic perfection that is Paddington 2 (2017). Javi worships Cage and his shrine of collected artifacts and revered, priceless props is a joyous spot of silliness, from Mandy’s glimmering forged axe The Beast to the golden pistols from Face/Off (1997), it’s a treasure trove of spotting the little details of Cage’s filmography. On its face, this is what the film is most often, just light silliness and fast friends having a fun time at a sunny destination, and the little moments between are often strong enough to elevate the film into a good time despite the familiarity of it all, it’s just a shame that it couldn’t find more to do with such great foundations. After all, he is Nic fucking Cage.