Friday 29 April 2022

Caged heat: "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent"

Tom Gormican's The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a stellar example of a film where the idea proves stronger than the execution, and even the idea is less original than it initially appears. In the postmodern era, numerous stars - figures as diverse as Pauly Shore (in 2003's Pauly Shore is Dead) and Jean-Claude Van Damme (2008's JCVD) - have appeared on our screens as loosely fictionalised, slightly down-at-heel versions of themselves, struggling to navigate the vagaries of fame and to find renewed purpose in an indifferent-seeming universe. Everyone, it now seems, fancies a go at being Larry David, whose Curb Your Enthusiasm hovers over most of these projects; even Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt from Status Quo, whose 2013 oddity Bula Quo! attempted something similarly self-referential on a Fijian island. Unbearable Weight..., which I realised halfway through is Nicolas Cage's Bula Quo!, is fan-fiction born of that line of online thought that insists everything Cage does - even the crap he does for cash to pay for his comic-book collection - is somehow compelling and hilarious at the same time. It's a film constructed almost entirely out of old Cage tics, riffs and routines, notionally freshened up by having the star play not a fictional character, but himself (or "himself"). Given the risks taken elsewhere in this career - and there aren't that many A-listers who can claim a Vampire's Kiss, an Adaptation. and a Mandy on their CVs - the surprise is how tame the resultant construction is: another Hollywood tale about a naff, mansplaining dad - a middle-aged man surrounded by images of his past - who has to learn how to be less self-involved for the sake of his cringing ex-wife (Sharon Horgan, overqualified) and estranged teenage daughter (Lily Mo Sheen, Michael's daughter in reality). Finding comparably iconic images might have been a stretch, but the underlying narrative would function at around the same level had the entire project instead been centred on Tim Allen.

After being slapped down for half an hour in the kind of L.A. industry satire that invariably generates better writing on TV (Curb, Episodes, this month's Chivalry), meta-Cage is shipped off to Spain to make an appearance at the birthday party of superfan Pedro Pascal, the CIA turn up in the form of Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz, and the film transforms into a moderate action-comedy that looks like a lower-budget version of what the studios used to put out in Cage's Nineties pomp. (The cars in the chases get beat up, but don't explode as they would have done in The Rock or Con Air.) Along the way, the script (by Gormican and Kevin Etten) throws up nerdy asides on Guarding Tess and the National Treasure making-of; one stretch is predicated on watching Nic Cage on acid, which again promises more than the mild sitcom chuckles it actually yields. There's not much the star can do except be himself (or "himself") and go along for the ride, yet passivity is no real basis for comedy, and the film yields no new iconic images to set alongside those Gormican has rented for the occasion from the Cage back catalogue. Coming so soon after last year's Pig (and Cage's first fully-dimensional performance in years), this merely feels like a victory lap at the end of what's been a rocky, VoD-adjacent decade for its main attraction: you'll snicker sporadically when you finally get around to watching it on a plane, but the complacency factored into it - that the fanbase will show up and laugh at any old shit - prevents it from being anything like as funny as it might have been. It's amiable, and it's bringing something slightly different into a dour and depressive multiplex, a crumb for which we're meant to be pathetically grateful. But the funniest bit was in the trailer, and only tangentially Cage-related: Barinholtz's pottymouthed outrage upon being asked to consider The Croods 2 as a 44-year-old man. I share his rage, but one of this merrily mediocre endeavour's weakspots is that it implicitly believes voicing Croods movies is a perfectly worthwhile way for Cage to be exercising that talent.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is now showing in cinemas nationwide.

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