When Nicolas Cage warns against exaggeration and overly dramatic line readings, you know you’ve crossed the uncanny valley. Therefore, there are chuckles when Cage, who is portraying himself, asks Pedro Pascal, “Very theatrical, but is there a real plan?” while posing as himself.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, by Tom Gormican, is a deliciously self-aware comedy. This particular scene is fascinating because it succeeds on numerous levels at once. And in each of them, Cage criticises the parody of himself that he assisted in creating, starting with 2004’s National Treasure.
When Jon Turteltaub recruited Nicolas Cage as the Disney version of Robert Langdon, National Treasure, which was once just a small Disney production that aimed to capitalise on the then-popular Dan Brown fad of turning history into a conspiracy theory treasure hunt, ramped it up to 11. Cage’s gonzo movie star character from the biggest action movie campfests of the 1990s was unleashed by his portrayal of Benjamin Franklin Gates, allowing him to speak gems like, “I’m going to steal the Declaration of Independence,” in a family film. Or that one time in the National Treasure sequel when he said, “I’m going to abduct the President of the United States,” absolutely straight-faced.
Both sections appear to have been crafted with Cage’s special ability to deliver lines with equal parts operatic bombast and seriousness in mind. He had been doing it for years in films like The Rock (1996) by Michael Bay or Face/Off (1997) by John Woo, where he would say to a thug, “It’s you, you’re the Rocket Man,” as a typical one-liner from an action movie of the day, and then immediately fire a missile at the thug. Or there was that time he proclaimed Woo’s batshit actioner in a grander manner by pledging, “I’m going to take his face… off. Face… off!
However, Turteltaub understood the genius of Cage’s matter-of-fact grandiloquence in the instance of National Treasure. As a result, in contrast to the aforementioned moments, he constructed entire scenes around that straightforward dramatic line reading, with the camera gradually dollying in on Cage until he delivers a line that pops like the action scene’s big payoff.
Before the term “meme” existed, the capacity to both underplay and overemphasise such drivel became internet “meme” material. Even on Saturday Night Live, where Andy Samberg played him in the mid-2000s, he was mocked saying things like, “We’re going to abduct God and not give Him back until we have our damn money,” and “I’m going to teabag the Magna Carta.”
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, like everything else by Nicolas Cage, acknowledges the modest kitschy magnificence of this National Treasure legacy. It appears exactly next to the actor’s gold-plated Face/Off firearms or Cage’s wooden hand from Moonstruck (1987), both of which are also there. The actor’s career has left behind a number iconic items of pop culture furniture, and this is just one of them.
It also receives its due in the third act of the new film, when Javi Gutierrez, who plays Pascal, gets to say a line that is equally as absurd as Cage’s. Prior to this, both characters had a great deal of difficulty grasping the metaplot of a movie-within-a-movie. While working through the larger plot mechanics of the movie, both Javi and Cage, who is portraying a narcissistic version of himself, are attempting to collaborate on a screenplay. Both characters insist their upcoming project will be an adult drama—a movie made by Cage the actor and not Cage the movie star (a distinction that is literalized in the movie by internal debates inside Cage’s mind between himself and “Nicki,” a leather jacket-wearing id who
However, Nicolas Cage’s persona concurs with Javi played by Pascal: “They should film a drama devoid of all the explosions, gunfire, and that other Hollywood horseshit which has dumbed down audiences to the point where all they want to see are “Marvel flicks or Star Wars.” The irony of this attitude being voiced by both the Mandalorian and Ghost Rider—whose internal alter ego still wears Johnny Blaze clothing—is not missed on Gormican’s very brilliant screenplay.
However, once a prominent person’s daughter is abducted and Cage and Javi are forced to devise a plan to save her from an impregnable castle by the end of the second act of the film, The Unbearable Weight gradually devolves into one of those enormous goofy ’90s cheesefests that Cage used to feature in.
Pascal’s eyes suddenly take on a reassuring assurance, and the camera slowly pans in for a close-up. We’re going to stroll in via the front door, Javi says in response to Cage’s frustrated question about how they’re going to enter this impossible location.
Yes, it’s incredibly dramatic, but goddammit, it doesn’t make any sense. Cage understands that, and The Unbearable Weight understands that, yet Cage’s followers and his new film like the ridiculousness of nonsense. Just as they will delight in what follows… But to find out what that is, you’ll have to watch the film. Just let’s say it goes completely “Nicki” Cage.
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