This film immediately puts you in mind of things like Being John Malkovich or the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie JCVD, in which a well known Hollywood star plays a fictionalised version of themselves in a story that picks up on real elements of their persona and filmography. Certainly there are strong comparisons to make here but actually for me this was more akin to something like Get Shorty or The Player, where the narrative apes American cinema and the film industry while slowly becoming the thing it is mocking. Either way, the best of these movies (I am perhaps leaving out JCVD here) has a strong story that survives outside of its knowing intertextuality. If you remove Nic Cage from this film what remains is a very light and kind of predictable mob infiltration thriller. The film is fun but it could most certainly have been a lot better.
If you are a Nicolas Cage fan then you’ll probably love it though. There are references to his previous work, both obvious and more obscure (who really remembers Guarding Tess?) and some nice plays on the manic characterisation he built on in the 80s. It is all amusing but I have to say it isn’t very smart. When Ricky Gervais did his TV show Extras he riffed on and played against the ideas that existed around his celebrity co-stars; Kate Winslet was an Oscar hungry potty mouth, Patrick Stewart was an unsophisticated actor with shallow interests in lowbrow sci-fi, Daniel Radcliffe was a teenage lothario who was actually hopeless with women, and this film needed some small element of that. Instead what we get is the career and image obsessed actor, dining out on past successes. That didn’t need to be Nicolas Cage, that could have been almost anyone.
When you’ve got a film like this you’ve got to wonder when the lead actor to signed up because it is a bit of a risk isn’t it? It’s not like when they wrote Notting Hill with some ‘Julia Roberts type actor’ in mind. What if John Malkovich had not wanted to be in Being John Malkovich? As it is though, with The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent most of the script elements that are tied specifically to Cage could have been brought in relatively late in the day. (It should be noted that despite that title, this does manage to not be a huge vanity project – I’m thinking of you again Van Damme.) No, this film could just as easily have featured Stallone, Eddie Murphy or Bruce Willis (in the case of the latter, one cameo appearance even makes me think it was once planned to) with the nods just being to different films.
It is clear that the budget is limited on this film, you’ve only got to look at the CGI de-aging to see that, but a good story and a clever script aren’t the expensive parts of making a movie. The performances are good, if you want Nic Cage to play Nick Cage then you know you are going to be okay (note the difference in spelling in those names). Sharon Horgan adds to her impressive array of supporting parts and just to add to the whole Hollywoodness of the thing, Lily Mo Sheen who is the daughter of Martin Sheen and Kate Beckinsale gives a good turn as the daughter of Nicholas Cage. The star is probably Pedro Pascal though. When writing about Judd Apatow’s The Bubble I said Pascal would have done better to approach his comedy part by playing it straight and that is largely what he does here to charming effect. His character arc is corny but he plays it with conviction.
The Ripley Factor:
They are deliberately following a typical Hollywood formula here so maybe we should forgive them when most of the females are there to be saved or protected. Horgan does get a surprising moment of bravery and fortitude that nothing in her previous characterisation indicates is likely and there is some bold machine wielding from other women elsewhere, but this film is not focused on addressing gender issues. Only Tiffany Haddish makes it onto the poster. Maybe when Sandra Bullock, Halle Berry or some other women over forty does one of these we’ll get that. ‘Being Jamie Lee’ anyone? ‘The Unbearable Weisz of Massive’ Talent? ‘The Last Aniston Hero’? ‘My Name is Bryce’?