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A still from the movie. Image Credit: AP

Who among us doesn’t harbour an abiding love for Nicolas Cage? As an actor, he’s been consistently mesmerising, if occasionally confounding — careering over the top one minute and going heartbreakingly internal the next.

His career has been a fascinating hodgepodge of feints and fake-outs, a crazy quilt of dumb-smart action flicks, brainy meta-meditations, daring experiments, rom-coms, family films. He’s been on a particularly gratifying streak lately, with the weirdly funny horror fantasy “Mandy” (featuring the single greatest Erik Estrada joke of all time) and, more recently, “Pig,” a mournful picaresque that made the most of his wounded, hangdog sincerity.

In “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” Cage is at the top of his protean, in-for-a-penny game. In this giddy exercise in self-referential humour run gloriously amok, Cage plays Nick Cage, a version of himself who is in the midst of a divorce from a common-sensical make-up artist named Olivia (Sharon Horgan), running up a $600,000 tab at the Sunset Tower Hotel, alienated from his teenage daughter Addy (Lily Sheen) and desperate to work on a new movie being put together by the director David Gordon Green. An early scene features Cage and the real-life Green meeting up at the Chateau Marmont, with Cage insisting that he read for the role right then and there; he proceeds to deliver an aria of familiar Cage-ian intensity, bleeding from his soul while valets scurry busily behind him.

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Pedro Pascal and Nicolas Cage. Image Credit: AP

Given Nick’s dire financial situation, his agent (played to deadpan perfection by Neil Patrick Harris) sets up a private gig with a billionaire in Mallorca: Nick will be paid $1 million just to hang with the guy for a few days and show up at his birthday party. It turns out that Javi (Pedro Pascal) is not just an olive mogul but a Nick Cage superfan who — surprise! — has written a movie for his idol to star in.

Director Tom Gormican, working from a script he co-wrote with Kevin Etten, constructs “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” as an antically endearing tesseract in which Cage is continually asked about and commenting on his filmography — “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”? “Underrated for sure” — engaging in push-pull ambivalence with fame, worshipping at the altar of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” and managing his own narcissism. At moments of anxiety and indecision, he’s visited by Nicky, a younger, gonzo version of himself circa “Wild at Heart,” whose prime role is to remind Nick that he’s “Nick f — ing Cage!”

He sure is. As “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” gains momentum, it shape-shifts from a winking critique of actorly excess and celebrity worship to a playful — and on-point — cri de coeur about the state of American cinema. As Nick and Javi work on their screenplay, what starts as “a character-driven adult drama” morphs into a “Taken”-style genre piece, a shift that’s echoed in the movie itself. To paraphrase Nick, it’s like “Being John Malkovich” meets “Stardust Memories” with a dash of Robert Altman’s “The Player.”

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A scene from the movie. Image Credit: AP

If this all sounds too insufferable and in-jokey, fear not: Gormican, with the help of his fabulously game ensemble cast, keeps the balloon afloat with a light touch, crisp pacing and an overarching mood that’s more goofily endearing than smugly self-amused. (Like Javi, he’s a hardliner for tone.) The bromance that evolves between Nick and Javi is totally adorable, even when for some inexplicable reason they decide what their work session needs is a hit of LSD. The result is the stuff of silly slapstick rather than a full-Cage head trip.

Of course, the whole anarchic hall of mirrors would collapse entirely without Cage — or, more precisely, his “nouveau-shamanic acting ability.” That recurring joke is meant to be a self-deprecating punchline, but it contains a kernel of truth: “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” might skitter along like an irreverent showbiz jape, but it also pays fitting homage to an actor who can always be counted on to commit to the bit.

Don’t miss it!

‘The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent’ is out now in the UAE.