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The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent review – fun Nic Cage meta-movie should have been weirder

The divisive actor gives a committed turn as himself, though this film eventually settles for generic action over thoughtful dissection

The debate as to whether Nicolas Cage is “in on the joke” should come to an end with the arrival of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, a $30 million meta-movie that attempts to grapple with the legacy – and memeification – of one of cinema's most divisive stars. In theory. It's perhaps surprising that after so long – and more than 120 credits to his name – Cage is yet to riff on arguably the most interesting persona at his disposal: himself. While it might disappoint those looking for a proper dissection of a truly actor fascinating screen presence, it's just probing enough to deliver some of what it promises.

Nic Cage stars as Nick Cage, a washed-up version of himself who has spent the last few years putting out low-budget fodder to increasing commercial distain. On the verge of landing a role in a serious movie that he hopes will relaunch his career, he's also struggling to connect with his daughter following a fallout over his favourite movie The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. When he fails to bag the part, Cage falls into a drunken depression and so has no choice but to accept an offer from a superfan millionaire – played with surprising comic depth by Pedro Pascal – to spend the weekend at his mansion in Mallorca, before being enlisted by the CIA to spy on his host.

Essentially, this is a pretty run-of-the-mill action movie with a few Nic Cage references scattered here and there. The nods to the actor's work aren't particularly clever – most of them just involve naming a famous film or a memorable scene – and the movie eventually gives in to a generic action movie template in order to, one suspects, appeal equally to people who couldn't care less about the meta angle and just want to watch a Nic Cage action movie.

But a movie star with as many layers as Cage deserved a far weirder movie in the vein of Being John Malkovich, or his own Adaptation., something it only occasionally gets close to when Cage interacts – and in one scene passionately kisses – an imaginary, younger version of himself moulded on his character from David Lynch's Wild at Heart. In these absurd moments the movie hints at something more ambitious about the nature of stardom that it never fully commits to.

It all just about hangs together on account of Cage's committed turn. He seems genuinely pleased to engage with the material and shares nice, bromance-like chemistry with Pascal. Ironically, this – which could have been a real ham-fest – makes for one of Cage's less interesting performances, though, mostly because he's trying to appear like a normal human being – perhaps the marketing's biggest trick was convincing us this would make for his most audacious part yet. All said and done, the mere fact the film exists is probably the most fascinating thing about it.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is released in UK cinemas from 22 April.

Where to watch

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