In 2009, Al Pacino satirized himself in the classic film, “Jack and Jill,” co-starring Adam Sandler as the titular lead character(s). Okay, perhaps classic isn’t the right word, but the film will forever be immortalized for one thing and one thing only: “Dunkaccino.” The fictional ad for Dunkin’ Donuts put legendary actor, Al Pacino, at the forefront of a commercial that squeezed in almost every notable reference from the legendary actor’s career (even the dreadful “The Godfather Part III”). Pacino’s part in “Jack and Jill” went no further than mocking his lack of Academy Awards and being “PG eye candy” for Jill. Nic Cage, who can be as big as Pacino when called upon, now plays an exaggerated version of himself in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” (shortened to “Massive Talent” for the sake of readability). The difference between Cage’s performance in “Massive Talent” vs. Pacino’s in “Jack and Jill”? The former is required to carry an entire film that’s crutch is Cage playing himself.
“Massive Talent” follows — you guessed it — Nic Cage as himself. In this alternate reality, Cage is down on his luck and struggling to get parts; pushed to the point of begging to partake in table reads. Oh, and he’s also $600,000+ in debt, getting divorced from his wife, Olivia (Sharon Horgan), and losing connection by the second with his 16-year-old daughter, Addy (Lily Sheen). After missing out on the part that seemed just right to bring him back to relevance — not as if he ever left, as Cage will have you know — Cage takes a million-dollar offer to show up at a birthday party for superfan Javi (Pedro Pascal).
A simple plot for a performer that is anything but simple, “Massive Talent” should get credit where credit is due. The sole idea of having Cage — who has ranged from working with Martin Scorsese to scraping the bottom of the “Recently Bought Used” section of your local Giant — satirize himself and be able to poke fun at himself is unique. Director Tom Gormican (“That Awkward Moment”) served as the co-writer of the film, and while the fact that he actually got Nic Cage to star in the film should be applauded, a lot of what works about “Massive Talent” is that it plays like one of those “Around the World” beer tours at a brewery, making stops — or name-dropping — Cage’s greatest hits. This goes as far as Cage’s character from “Vampire’s Kiss” — dubbed “Nicky” in “Massive Talent” — serving as the figurative “devil on his shoulder” throughout.
Maybe it should be said — for the sake of full transparency — that my Nic Cage viewing history doesn’t go much farther than “Face/Off,” “Bringing out the Dead,” “Pig,” and “Raising Arizona,” “Massive Talent” is a Nic Cage fan’s dream. I’m sure there are nuances in the references that enhance the performance so much more but fear not: I wasn’t completely lost amidst the reference overload that is usually reserved for a Shawn Levy-Ryan Reynolds film.
Pedro Pascal is a scene-stealer as Nic Cage superfan, Javi, who has a shrine that tops any other Nic Cage shrine. Everyone has that one celebrity that we would do anything to meet (simple solution: offer them a million dollars!), and Pascal has this neurotic energy that is likely what every MCU actor at ComicCon sees when they do photo-ops. There are little nuances such as the way he picks up a bottle from the beer bucket before throwing it right back on the ice after realizing he couldn’t open it. And maybe it’s just me, but it’s just so refreshing seeing Mando in a role that isn’t so serious. Pascal did what he could as the televangelist in “Wonder Woman: 1984,” but that movie was a trainwreck with or without him.
For as much fun as “Massive Talent” pokes at the script Cage and Javi write, the film following the same template is more of an eye-roll than anything. The script that Cage and Javi come up with begins with a kidnapping (literally the first scene of the film, set to a Nic Cage movie playing on the TV), then shifts to being a character-focused “drama for adults” (this describes the following hour after the opening), before becoming a “Hollywood blockbuster” in the third act with car chases, gunshots, hostages, oh my! Maybe it just rubs me the wrong way when films make fun of something so that it lessens the blow when they go ahead and follow the same tropes (the “Scream” franchise is the only exception).
Ike (we couldn’t get a Wahlberg) Barinholtz and Tiffany Haddish play CIA agents; yes, you read that right. When they first show up, they’re in the midst of an operation at a private airport — this is how they run into Nic for the first time. But after some banter about Cage’s most well-known film —according to them, it’s between “Face/Off” and “The Croods” — Haddish sneaks a tracker into Cage’s jacket and they recruit him into a world of “spycraft” as Cage puts it. They need him to help them recover the kidnapped girl from the beginning of the film. Look, both of these actors can be funny — Barinholtz was great in “Blockers” and “The Hunt” — but neither he nor Haddish exudes CIA energy. I actually thought it was a joke — even after they explicitly state that they are CIA operatives — and I was fully expecting them to be kidnappers or something. It’ll take a little bit more than suspension of disbelief to believe this for a second.
Even worse, the sole purpose of Barinholtz and Haddish being in the film — aside from name value, I guess — is to weigh down the film massively with cheap humor. Even with an R rating, there’s no bite or ambition with their jokes in particular. They serve the types of roles that you likely expect them to, and it’s a shame that two good comedic actors go to waste. The same could be said about Neil Patrick Harris — who plays Cage’s fictional manager — but after “The Matrix: Resurrections,” this was a breath of fresh air.
But on a positive note, for as silly and over-the-top as “Massive Talent” can be, the motif about parenting is endearing and brings the only semblance of emotional depth to the table. As someone states in the film (I think it’s Nic Cage), it’s almost impossible to be close to a 16-year-old. Addy is no exception, but the way in which Cage goes about projecting his own interests onto Abby was relatable. My father wanted me to get into photography, take French in high school, and like movies/music. Only one of those panned out (maybe two if you want to count my inability to speak French coherently), but it wasn’t until I recently celebrated my 21st that I realized the tightrope act that parents attempt to maneuver; especially as their children are coming of age. It’s not that “Massive Talent” is an extremely deep and emotional film, but the attempt at bringing some weight, no pun intended, was a nice touch.
Make no mistake, “Massive Talent” is not a cinematic landmark or deep character study about the troubles of being cast in Hollywood as you age, and it’s not even the best film releasing this weekend, but both fans of Nic Cage and those who merely appreciate him will have a blast with “Massive Talent.” Plus, Pedro Pascal has a blast being the nerdy fan that we all are of someone out there. And if the references to Cage’s filmography aren’t enough, “Massive Talent” also references “Paddington 2” on numerous occasions.
Lionsgate will release “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” on April 22.