If you are a close reader (and who got time for that?) you may notice that I don’t actually recommend movies very often, at least in any unqualified sense. Some of y’all read my review of Everything Everywhere All At Once and mistook my enthusiasm for that film as a recommendation, even though I qualified it six ways from Sunday. There are a lot of reasons to dislike the film, from vulgarity, to absurdity, to a fairly close hewing to political correctness, to say nothing of its occasionally hyperkinetic style.
The last time I recommended a film outright was on of the Christmas Ornaments suggestions, Joyeux Noel, and even there I didn’t qualify only because of space constraints. The point is, really, that there aren’t a lot of General Audience pictures these days. If we go back 40 years to what some ignoramuses claim is the greatest year in movie history, our top ten certainly seems more “general” than the top ten of the past decade: E.T., Indiana Jones, Rocky III, On Golden Pond, An Officer and a Gentleman, Porky’s, Arthur, Star Trek II, Best Little Whorehouse and Poltergeist. (And I only liked four of those at the time!) You have to infer that any unqualified recommendation has the disclaimer “if you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you’ll like.”
I do recommend movies, but I do it for individuals that I know. For example, I don’t think my mother or The Flower will like Everything but I think the Barbarienne will. What I try to do here is give you a sense of my experience watching something so that you’ll get a sense of whether you might like it regardless of how I felt.
Seems like a big lead-in, no? But that’s because we got another Nicolas Cage movie: The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.
Some hate him, some love him and for some (probably most, though they’re quiet) it depends entirely on what he’s doing in the movie, and it is the last group that has the most to gain or lose from any given review of a Cage picture. So what is he doing in this movie?
Cage plays himself, sorta, “Nick” rather than “Nic”, a Hollywood actor who has all the same roles as the real Cage (with a fictionalized family) but who is in desperate need of constant validation, to the point that he grossly neglects his soon-to-be-ex-wife and daughter while running himself to debt with reckless purchases and living at the Sunset Towers. Play It Again, Sam!-style, he is advised by his alter-ego, a digitally de-aged version of himself from the Wild At Heart years who insists he’s not an actor he’s a movie star and that’s what matters in life. It is hard to know which is more pathetic: This young, stupid Cage or the older, neurotic one who is bullied by him.
When he loses out (cameo by David Gordon Green, who directed him in one of his best roles, Joe) on his dream part his agent suggests he do a birthday party for a billionaire in Spain who’s a big fan. Neal Patrick Harris plays the agent, and I found this to be the only miscast—not because NPH doesn’t kill it but because he’s recognizable and it sort of breaks the illusion that you’re watching Cage’s real life. (This, again, is idiosyncratic: I don’t know that he’s generally any more recognizable than, say, Sharon Horgan who plays Mrs. Cage and is all over TV, apparently. Or Pedro Pascal, who’s apparently on “The Mandalorian”.)
The Spanish billionaire (Pascal) turns out to be really cool and the only man in the universe who loves Cage as much as he loves himself, a love which bonds the two in what turns into a rather charming buddy picture. This second act is full of references (most of which I didn’t get because I’m not really a Cage fan) and as the two decide to write a script together, it turns into a fun meta-ironic description of the movie we’re all watching at the moment, to the point where when they talk about the third act needing to be a dumb action picture to attract audiences, you know that’s more than light foreshadowing.
Because, unbeknownst to Cage, the CIA is using him as a spy because Spanish billionaire is actually an evil drug cartel leader—or is he? The CIA coerces him into doing stuff, ostensibly to rescue a kidnapped girl.
This part was interesting because, I don’t know about you, but I’m not at a place in my life (if I ever have been) where I can accept the CIA’s word for anything. So while I had no trouble accepting that there were bad guys afoot, I couldn’t really see the CIA as good guys. Intriguingly, the movie also seems to take that stance: The CIA may or may not be right, but they’re certainly grossly incompetent here. That struck me as very believable.
Anyway, the whole spy thing gave us yet another marvelous way to poke fun at actors, stars, and other delusional people and the movie has such a breezy, good-natured sense of humor, you really regret the inevitable third act descent into a dumb action picture. Now, it’s not all bad: This is what gives “Nick” his chance at redemption, when he finally has to prove that he cares about his daughter instead of just using her as a means to get attention. And it’s still pretty light and fun, with a seamless transition into an actual in-movie movie to give us the “Hollywood ending” but in a tongue-in-cheek manner that allows Cage to mock the at-times over-the-top style he’s notorious for. It’s just not quite up to the light-hearted lunacy of the first two acts.
The wonderful thing, if you like Cage at all, is that the movie does give him the chance to act in a broad range of styles. He’s almost Woody Allen-esque at the beginning. Well, okay, a kinetic version of Allen, anyway. When he finds a friend in his biggest fan, this is by turns subtle and comically not, especially when he’s acting as a spy. And despite the corniness of the action-y resolution, you get here the very sincere Cage that feels very real. You end up rooting for the guy.
Directed by Tom Gormican and co-written with Kevin Etten, one or both of the two wrote apparently the script on spec meaning without any up-front cash or assurance that Cage would go along, and initially he wasn’t interested. At one point, apparently, Cage considered playing the Spanish billionaire, but even irony has its limits. Some good cinematography from Nigel Buck and a flexible score from the great Mark Isham, as well as just fun location shots (although supposedly Majorca, actually…Budapest?) round out a pretty darn good “general audience” picture.
It is rated R, for language primarily. There is some drug use, too, most notably an acid trip done for laughs and probably for some commentary on the thinking processes of “creatives”. And there is a kind of interesting message outright stated twice: “Never shit on yourself”, Nick says (right after screwing something up, I think) and “This is why I must trust my shamanic instincts as a thespian” when he realizes how screwed up the CIA—who didn’t trust his shamanistic instincts as a thespian—is. “Never shit on yourself” and “trust your instincts” is actually pretty solid advice, even if you are a neurotic Hollywood movie-star/actor.
We followed this movie up with a Finnish horror movie called The Hatching, The Northman, The Duke, Speer Goes To Hollywood, Plan A, April 7, 1980, and when this is posted I’ll be watching The Raft. The last four are part of the Israeli Film Festival and, with the Finnish horror flick, really made us feel like we were “back”. Sadly, our local indie theater’s demo—elderly American Jews and assorted Middle Easterners—has not come back with us, and this bodes ill for its future.
But for now, we’ll soldier on.