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The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Nicolas Cage has officially revealed he’s in on the joke … if “joke” is precisely what it is. But has that spoiled the joke – if that is the correct word? This is a self-aware action comedy whose title is possibly the funniest bit, riffing on Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being as well as possibly Dave Eggers’s memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Producer-star Cage plays “Nick Cage”: Hollywood ledge and national treasure (to quote a relevant movie title) now in a midlife crisis, haunted by CGI-doppelganger visions of his angry younger self, no longer booking the big roles and facing a grim future in which, as his agent (Neil Patrick Harris) puts it, he plays the cool gay uncle in a Duplass brothers film.

Cage is living in a hotel, estranged from his wife Olivia (a thanklessly unfunny role for Sharon Horgan) and moody teen daughter Addy (Lily Mo Sheen), who hates the movie classics he tries introducing her to. (I was waiting for Addy to declare herself instead a massive fan of movies by the Coppola family. Maybe that would be an in-joke too far.) Cash-strapped Cage is forced to accept a million-dollar appearance fee at the spectacular luxury home of a billionaire plutocrat Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal) who is a besotted superfan. But then the CIA gets word to our hero that Javi is a dangerous cartel gangster and Cage must use his privileged access to bring him down.

There are some entertaining meta-touches here, but the entire Gutierrez plot is strained and borderline dull. Pascal isn’t a natural comic and the movie winds up fudging his crucial bad-guy status. As for Cage, this isn’t like Leslie Nielsen sending up his erstwhile straight-lead image for Airplane! and The Naked Gun, nor is it exactly like John Malkovich fabricating a complex fictional self in Being John Malkovich. Cage simply plays Cage in the moderate script he’s been given, in that utterly committed, strangely uncomplicated way that has won the hearts of fans who declare themselves on the right side of the laugh-with/laugh-at dividing line. But Cage has already done a far more interesting postmodern film about the film business – Spike Jonze’s Adaptation, written by Charlie Kaufman, in which Cage gave a far better (dual) performance in a much funnier and better written film as the tormented screenwriter-artist Charlie Kaufman and his middlebrow twin brother Donald. In comparison, this feels lightweight.