This article contains mild The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent spoilers.
You know you’ve entered the uncanny valley when it is Nicolas Cage who cautions against hyperbole and overly dramatic line readings. Hence the snickers when Cage, playing a version of himself, looks Pedro Pascal dead into the windows of his soul and says, “Very dramatic, but is there an actual plan?”
The moment, which occurs right before the third act of Tom Gormican’s delightfully self-aware comedy, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, is appealing because it works on several levels at once. And in all of them, Cage is rebuking the caricature of himself that he helped cultivate over several decades, beginning with 2004’s National Treasure .
Once just a little Disney project that attempted to cash-in on the then-popular Dan Brown craze of turning history into a conspiracy theory treasure hunt, Jon Turteltaub’s National Treasure dialed it up to 11 when he cast Cage as the Disney version of Robert Langdon. By playing Benjamin Franklin Gates, Cage was unleashed, bringing his gonzo movie star persona from the biggest action movie campfests of the 1990s to a family film where he plays a guy who gets to say gems like, “I’m going to steal the Declaration of Independence.” Or that one time in the National Treasure sequel where he uttered with an absolute straight face, “I’m going to kidnap the President of the United States.”
Don’t believe us? Watch the video below.
Both sequences seem specifically written for Cage’s unique ability to deliver lines with simultaneous earnestness and operatic bombast. He’d been doing it for years in movies like Michael Bay’s The Rock (1996) or John Woo’s Face/Off (1997) where he might tell a goon, “It’s you, you’re the Rocket Man” as a typical for that era action movie one-liner (he’d immediately afterward shoot a missile at said goon). Or there was that time he more grandly declares the title of Woo’s batshit actioner, by promising, “I’m going to take his face… off. Face… off!”
But in the case of National Treasure, Turteltaub recognized the brilliance of Cage’s matter-of-fact grandiloquence. So unlike the aforementioned sequences, he built entire scenes around that simple dramatic line reading, with the camera slowly dollying in on Cage until he drops a verbal diamond like it’s the money shot of an action scene.
The ability to both underplay and overemphasize such nonsense became internet “meme” fodder before the phrase even existed. It even reached the not-so-rarified air of Saturday Night Live where the mid-2000s parody of him, portrayed by Andy Samberg, was to say with a stoneface lines like, “We’re going to kidnap God and not give Him back until we get our damn money” and “I’m going to teabag the magna carta.”
As with everything else Nicolas Cage, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent recognizes the small kitschy greatness of this National Treasure legacy. It stands there right alongside Cage’s wooden hand from Moonstruck (1987), which also makes an appearance, or the actor’s gold-plated guns from Face/Off. And it’s one of the many pieces of pop culture furniture that the actor’s career has left behind.
It gets its due in the third act of the new movie, too, when Pascal’s Javi Gutierrez gets to utter a line with the exact same level of ridiculousness to Cage. Before this moment both characters have struggled mightily on the meta plot thread of a movie-within-a-movie. Both Javi and Cage, playing a narcissistic version of himself, are attempting to collaborate on a screenplay while going through the actual movie’s larger plot mechanics, and both characters insist their upcoming project will be an adult drama—a film made by Cage the actor and not Cage the movie star (a distinction which is literalized in the movie by internal debates inside Cage’s mind between himself and “Nicki,” a leather jacket-wearing id who demands Cage make more action movies).
Nevertheless, the character of Nicolas Cage agrees with Pascal’s Javi: They should make a drama devoid of all the explosions, gunfire, and that other Hollywood horseshit which has dumbed audiences down to the point where all they want to see are “Marvel movies or Star Wars.” The irony that this sentiment is expressed by Ghost Rider (whose internal alter-ego still dresses like Johnny Blaze) and the Mandalorian is not lost on Gormican’s own very clever screenplay.
Despite these noble intentions though, The Unbearable Weight slowly turns into one of those big silly ‘90s cheesefests that Cage used to star in after an important person’s daughter is kidnapped and, by the end of the movie’s second act, Cage and Javi have to come up with a plan for how to rescue her from an impregnable fortress.
Suddenly, Pascal gets a calming confidence in his eye, and the camera begins to slowly dolly into his face for a close-up. When Cage, exasperated, asks how they’re going to break into this impossible location, Javi utters, “We’re going to walk in through the front door.”
Yes, very dramatic, but it doesn’t make any goddamn sense. Cage gets that; The Unbearable Weight gets that; but Cage’s fans, and his new movie, love the absurdity of nonsense. Just as they’ll enjoy what comes next… but you will have to see the movie to find out what that is. Let’s just say it goes the full “Nicki” Cage.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is in theaters now.