How cool is Nicolas Cage? Best stop reading now if your answer to that question is, “Not cool enough! I’d rather lick a dirty toilet bowl than watch a meta action-comedy about that Hollywood berk”. Conversely, if, like me, you adore Cage’s high-wire energy (and view Raising Arizona and Adaptation as two of the best American films ever made) you’ll probably be able to forgive even the laziest stretches of this quirkily mainstream effort.
Cage stars as Hollywood legend “Nick Cage”, a sentimental, profligate, borderline alcoholic wreck, and “Nicky”, Nick’s pugnacious alter ego.
Nick seeks validation through high art and keeps failing to connect with his down to earth ex-wife, Olivia (Sharon Horgan; fun, if somewhat starved of zingers) and 16-year-old daughter, Addy (Lily Sheen; hauntingly human). Meanwhile, Nicky (Cage, de-aged by CGI whizzery), only cares about fame, money and gonzo excess. The first of many jolting moments sees Nick and Nicky engage in an onanistic “smooch”. No wonder Nick is lonely. He’s too turned on by himself to sustain intimacy with anyone else.
Offered $1m to attend the birthday party of a Spanish billionaire super-fan called Javi, Nick flies to Mallorca. Once there, our hero finds himself being pressured by two CIA agents (Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz) into accepting a dangerous spying mission that will utilise all of his “pseudo shamanic” powers.
Director/co-scriptwriter Tom Gormican goes easy on many aspects of Cage’s persona. No jokes about how as Cage gets older, his wives get younger. No jokes about his uncannily spruce appearance. That said, the very naturalness of 47-year-old Pedro Pascal, the rumpled actor playing Javi, highlights the oddness of Cage’s appearance (Pascal looks like he’s made of flesh and blood; Cage looks like he’s made of wax and tomato ketchup).
It doesn’t matter. Cage’s eyes and mouth are as expressive as ever and he is utterly plausible as a man who, for all his befuddled vanity, wants to get real. As casually magnetic as Jerry Lewis (in The King of Comedy), John Malkovich (in Being John Malkovich) and Michael Keaton (in Birdman), Cage isn’t trading on his past. He’s showing us what he’s capable of, right now.
The revelation is that Pascal is just as talented. The Chilean actor was good in Wonder Woman 1984 but not nearly as stretched. Here, by turns scary and cuddly, he seems capable of anything.
Nick and Javi earnestly drop acid and discuss the ground-breaking script they want to write (“So our movie will be character driven and full of nuanced performances... but, like, what’s it about?”) They don’t smooch, but the chemistry between them is insane and makes up for the fact that the “action”, when it comes, isn’t much cop.
It’s been over a decade since Cage headlined a movie that made serious money. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is patently better than Ghost Rider 2. That doesn’t mean it will be a hit.
It’s routinely argued that sequels and superheroes are killing cinema. And that it’s a bad thing to pander to fans. This film complicates the debate and does it with moxy to spare. No one’s expecting to be as successful as Spider-Man: No Way Home, but if it makes less money than Morbius I’ll cry.