The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent / Massive Talent

Director: Tom Gormicon (USA). Year of Release: 2022

An evening in. A couple are settling down in front of a video. It’s a Nicolas Cage film. They (and particularly she) think Cage is a fucking legend. The doorbell rings – it must be the pizza delivery. As he opens the door, a large masked figure dressed entirely in black swats him to the ground. She struggles with the masked man, and manages to evade him. As she opens the outside door of their large apartment, a second masked man dressed in black hits her to the floor and drags her away.

Cut to: “Nick Cage”, who is up for an audition, well sort of. He is too much of a star to actually need to do readings, but as he listens to the director banging on about his new play, “Nick” gets excited, saying that he sees elements of King Lear. Uninvited, he performs an over-the-top rendition of the script in a car park. He is to be soon disappointed when the director assures him that he loves him, but explains that he has decided to take the film in a different direction.

As “Nick” drives off, he suddenly sees someone in his passenger seat wearing a leather jacket. It’s Nicky Cage, a CGI-enhanced younger version of no-one’s favourite horse-faced actor. Nicky assures “Nick” that he’s not just an actor – he SHOUTS that he’s a fucking movie STAR, in the overacted style familiar to most of us. If you haven’t noticed already, the film has gone incredibly meta.

“Nick” is on his uppers, having spent way too much running up a huge hotel bill. Enter Javi, who offers $1 million for a meet and greet at his birthday party in Mallorca. At first “Nick” demurs, but then decides that he needs the money too much. Javi, meanwhile, has an ulterior motive – a script that he is eager for “Nick” to read. This is not the only thing that he is deliberately vague about. It seems like Javi has some connection to the Spanish mafia.

Nick flies to Mallorca with his ex-wife and daughter in tow. His ex-wife is a wise-cracking Irish woman who has obviously had enough of his shit. It looks like that she’s been cast to make sure that “Nick” never gets too full of himself. The daughter is in her mid-teens and is equally fed up of her famous dad’s pretentiousness. Why does he insist on showing her The Cabinet of Dr. Calimari (sic), when they could be enjoying themselves watching something good like Paddington 2?

Javi’s shrine to the life and work of Nicolas Cage is not the most dodgy thing about him. It looks like his family was responsible for the kidnap of the daughter of the Catalonian president which we saw in the opening scene. Before long, the CIA gets involved and “Nick” is parodying Nicolas Cage’s real-life film performances by tip-toeing while stoned along a hotel balcony. There follows all sorts of shootouts and gunfights inside picturesque backlit stone buildings.

We have rapidly moved from a self-aware Charlie Kaufman-type discussion about identity to a schlocky B movie. In short, we’ve been following the career of Nicolas Cage. Massive Talent seems to be full of references to Nicolas Cage films, which probably mean more to other people than me (after his stellar performance in Raising Arizona, I largely gave up on his excesses). Nonetheless there is some charm in the self-awareness, even If Cage seems a little bit too in on the joke.

Massive Talent raises the question whether a crappy Nicolas Cage is any less crappy if it knows that it’s a crappy Nicolas Cage film. The answer is Yes, it probably is, though I worry that it will encourage sequels or spin-offs. The joke (and there really is only one joke) is just about strong enough to last the length of one film. I’m not sure that repeating it will produce as generous a response from anyone other than Cage’s closest fans.

Here’s the problem. This is a film that becomes exactly what it is trying to parody. “Look at this”, it’s saying, “isn’t it crap?”. This just encourages us to think that what we’re watching is itself pretty worthless. It also means that the plot closely follows an uninspiring formula, which is both the point of it all, and a problem which it is never fully able to surmount.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this film – maybe a hilarious parody, maybe a self-referential smug-fest which was just too pleased with its own apparent subversiveness. In the end, it was neither. This is a film that has enough about us to keep us engaged, without ever fully convincing us (I mean me) that Cage is a halfway good actor. The point is that he doesn’t really need to act here, just gurn a little and re-enact the many memes that have been made from his films.

So go along and enjoy. But if they try and do it again, please remind them that once is enough.

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