Nicolas Cage has officially revealed that he’s in on the joke… if “joke” is exactly what it is. But did that ruin the joke – if that’s the right word? This is a self-conscious action comedy whose title is arguably the funniest, riffing on Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being and possibly Dave Eggers’ memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Producer star Cage plays “Nick Cage”: Hollywood ledge and national treasure (to quote a pertinent movie title) now in a midlife crisis, haunted by CGI doppelgänger visions of his evil younger self, no longer booking the big roles and faced with a grim future where, as his agent (Neil Patrick Harris) puts it, he plays the cool gay uncle in a Duplass brothers movie.
Cage lives in a hotel, estranged from his wife Olivia (an thankless unfunny role for Sharon Horgan) and moody teenage daughter Addy (Lily Mo Sheen), who hates the movie classics he tries to introduce her to. (I waited for Addy to call herself a huge fan of Coppola movies instead. Perhaps that would be taking a joke too far.) Cage is forced to accept a million-dollar appearance fee at the spectacular luxury home of a billionaire plutocrat Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal), who is a besotted superfan. But then the CIA learns our hero that Javi is a dangerous cartel mobster and Cage must use his privileged access to take him down.
There are some entertaining meta-touches here, but the whole Gutierrez plot is tense and verging on boring. Pascal is not a natural cartoonist and the film ends its pivotal villain status. As for Cage, this isn’t like Leslie Nielsen sending in his former straight-lead image for Airplane! and The Naked Gun, nor is it exactly like John Malkovich fabricating a complex fictional self in Being John Malkovich. Cage just plays Cage in the moderate script given to him, in that utterly devoted, oddly straight-forward manner that has won the hearts of fans who are on the right side of the smile-with-smile dividing line. But Cage has already made a much more interesting postmodern film about the film industry – Spike Jonze’s Adaptation, written by Charlie Kaufman, in which Cage gave a much better (double) performance in a much funnier and better written film as the haunted screenwriter-artist Charlie Kaufman and his middle twin brother Donald. In comparison, this feels light.