Nicolas Cage has had one of the stranger careers in Hollywood history. Considering Hollywood history, that’s saying something. “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” with its splendidly winking title, trades on that strangeness. It is that career’s reductio ad absurdum. Or ne plus ultra. Or sanctum sanctorum. Or some other Latin phrase that basically means, whoa, you’ve got to be kidding.
It’s Cage doing most of the kidding — of himself, his image, his filmography. “Talent” has almost as many references to his movies as his IMDb page does. That kidding is the most entertaining and distinctive thing about “Talent.” Otherwise, it’s pretty much your basic high-gloss action movie. Tom Gormican directed and wrote the script, with Kevin Etten.
Cage plays a famous movie star named Nick Cage. That “k” added to Nic, Cage’s preferred diminutive, flags the out-there meta-ness that is the movie’s calling card. Cage has great fun spoofing his pretentiousness, how difficult he can be to work with, his body of work’s . . . waywardness? Yes, that’s a good word, waywardness.
Needing the cash, Nick agrees to a million-dollar offer to show up at a fan’s birthday party in Spain (the movie was shot in Croatia and Hungary). The fan, as you might imagine, is very rich. He’s appealingly played by Pedro Pascal (“The Mandalorian”). Also good are Sharon Horgan (“Catastrophe”), as Nick’s long-suffering ex-wife — he’s not just difficult on a movie set — and Tiffany Haddish (“Girls Trip,” “The Card Counter”), as a CIA agent.
Wait, CIA agent? That’s where the action-movie stuff comes in. “So much of acting is like spying,” Nick says. There’s also father-daughter stuff (Nick isn’t the world’s best parent), movie-industry stuff (Neil Patrick Harris shows up as Nick’s agent), and male-bonding stuff, between Nick and the fan. Even without the meta angle, this would be a lot of tone shifting to get right, and “Talent” doesn’t.
Cage does a Boston accent, twice, and it’s not bad. He gets to try out a Miles Davis imitation, and it’s pretty good. He has several dual-role scenes, playing his own alter ego, or imaginary friend, or doppelganger, or something like that — shades of “Face/Off” or “Adaptation.” Those seem a bit silly.
The “Talent” premise would make for a terrific extended skit — say, on a “Saturday Night Live” episode with Cage as guest host. But “Talent” isn’t a skit, extended or otherwise. It’s a movie. A little Nick Cage goes a long way. A lot of Nick Cage goes even longer. It’s just not long enough.
THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT
Directed by Tom Gormican. Written by Gormican and Kevin Etten. Starring Nicolas Cage (”starring” is too weak a word), Pedro Pascal, Sharon Horgan, Tiffany Haddish. At Boston theaters, Coolidge Corner, suburbs. 106 minutes. R (language throughout, some sexual references, drug use, violence). In English and Spanish, with subtitles.
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.