Movie Review:

Often when I’m doing reviews on the radio or TV, I am asked “Are there any movies you’re looking forward to?”

I’m usually at a loss for what to say. This was one of those rare movies I was really looking forward to, because I was seeing trailers for a long time, and it looked amazing. And the film lived up to all the meta madness I was expecting from it.

I remember when Being John Malkovich came out, I joked with friends, “If Malkovich would’ve turned this movie down, you know what happens? It becomes ‘Being Christopher Walken’. If he turned it down, it becomes ‘Being Dennis Hopper’... until they find an actor that we think of, as a bit wacky, to take the part. Yet this movie wouldn’t work with anybody but Nicolas Cage. My wife said she could see Johnny Depp doing it, and with all the court stuff we’re seeing on TV recently, perhaps that would have worked, but not nearly as well. You see, we know all about Cage being a great actor. He won an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas, was nominated for Adaptation, and got buzz for his work in Moonstruck and most recently, Pig. He just had a habit of making lots and lots and lots of crappy movies. We also know about his crazy spending habits and debt, and questionable choices in life. So it’s awesome that he’d play himself and allow all those things to be referenced in a fictional story. Kudos to Cage for producing and starring in a vehicle that makes him a cartoonish and crazy caricature. 

With a mountain of debt, and not being able to pay a $600,000 hotel bill, Cage’s agent (the always fun Neil Patrick Harris), proposes a million dollar paycheck if Cage will attend a rich dude's birthday party. Of course, he and his agent joke about if he’ll have to do anything sexual, or if he can he just take a few photos, talk about his films, and fly back home. 

His marriage is either on the rocks, or has recently ended (the wife is played by the always wonderful Sharon Horgan, who was terrific in Game Night). Cage is also having problems relating to his teenage daughter (Lily Mo Sheen). 

Javi Gutierrez is the wealthy Spanish businessman who hires Cage. He’s played by Pedro Pascal, who steals almost every scene he’s in (and it’s nice to see him here, to take the dreadful taste out of our mouths from the horrible Wonder Woman 84). The two have wonderful chemistry together. How could they not? His three favorite films are Face/Off, Paddington 2, and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a movie Cage insisted his daughter watch and then listen to him pontificate about.

Javi is the ultimate fanboy, but he also has an ulterior motive. He’s written a screenplay he wants Cage to star in. The plot thickens when Cage shows up at the airport and Tiffany Haddish hounds him for a selfie. No, she’s not a hardcore fan. She’s with the CIA. She and her partner (the always hysterical Ike Barinholtz) think Javi runs a drug cartel and Cage showing up might mess up their plans (when the two debate how good The Croods 2 is, you realize, this movie is going to be filled with big laughs). Even when the movie starts, with Cage rocking out to Creedence Clearwater Revival (the best use of CCR in a comedy since The Big Lebowski), it’s smart that they didn’t do the cliche scene of him singing along to “Down on the Corner.” He merely lets out a primal scream, followed by him drumming along on the steering wheel. 

The friend I brought with me to this (who said it’s the best movie he’s seen in years), went with me to another screening a few weeks earlier, and struck up a conversation with a young lady nearby who was talking about how great this was; yet she hadn’t seen a lot of Cage movies (Face/Off, Con-Air, and The Rock all came up as movies she was clueless on). So this is a film you can enjoy even if you don’t know his body of work, although it certainly makes it more enjoyable to know the reference to The Wicker Man, or the glowing way they talk about Guarding Tess

When Cage has conversations with his younger self, you can’t decide if it’s more like his Valley Girl character, mixed with a dash of Peggy Sue Got Married and Vampire’s Kiss (those segments were a blast, and reminded me of Burt Reynolds’ last, underrated movie – The Last Movie Star).

It was fun watching Cage warm up to Javi, and even doubt the CIA’s intel on him. And a bit where he puts a poisonous chemical on his hand to knock somebody out, reminded me of a funny moment in Seth Rogen’s The Interview. There were also a few jokes that reminded me of Kids in the Hall skits (the word “ascertain” and a massage with his agent where they get painfully whipped on their backs). 

Smart writers do what they did here. They have scenes that might remind you of something else, but we don’t feel like they ripped those other comedies off. Even the way Javi so idolizes Cage, but isn’t fawning, is perfect. Javi wasn’t over-the-top to the point of obnoxiousness, which a lesser screenwriter would have surely done with that character.

As I’m sitting here writing this, I just keep thinking of all the fun moments. There’s a scene where Cage is forced to take acid, easily the funniest sequence you might see in a movie all year (especially a fake laugh moment). The way the drugs kick in and you hear some old jazz song, with a horn section, slowed down is so much more interesting than just going the easy route and using a Pink Floyd tune. It’s just a shame that they dent up a cool old Porsche Speedster in that scene, though.

There’s a fun segment where the two guys swap shoes. The fact that Cage is wearing Vans made me think of his first film (which he was mostly edited out of) – Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

There’s a fun skeet shooting scene. Those always work well on screen, when a bad guy is holding a big gun and you’re not sure what he might shoot (the funniest skeet shooting scene for me goes back to John Entwhistle of The Who shooting gold records in their documentary The Kids Are Alright back in 1979).

A more popular movie, Donnie Brasco is mentioned, but I’m sure that joke will go over everyone’s head.

Having the movie start with Cage doing a hard-sell for a part he wants in a movie (and it’s a cameo from director David Gordon Green [see his movie Snow Angels and thank me later]. That leads him to loudly reading the lines in the parking lot outside the restaurant. 

There are at least 25 other big laughs in this movie, but it’s not for me to spoil them for you. Go see this and enjoy them for yourself.

An extra star for touching our hearts by ending the movie with one of Warren Zevon’s last songs – Keep Me In Your Heart, although I think a better Zevon to end the movie with would have been Accidentally Like a Martyr or Poor Poor Pitiful Me (with lyrics like: Well I met a man out in Hollywood/Now, I ain't naming names/Well he really worked me over good, Just like Jesse James).

4 stars out of 5.

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