Fame and (mis)fortune haunt Nicolas Cage in this thriller

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Dream Scenario
Opens In Theatres Dec. 1
3.5 out of 5

What else is there to say about Nicolas Cage? His “Western kabuki” brand of acting guarantees there’s always something to watch. Alas, too many of his films rely on his commitment to his craft and provide no additional support. Take The Retirement Plan (2023) with its tired plot about a hitman brought out of retirement by a threat to his family. Cage is entertaining as the beach-bum-turned-killing-machine, but there’s only so much he can do with a pile of tropes mixed in a blender.

Thankfully, the director here is Kristoffer Borgli — a young Norwegian filmmaker responsible for the troubling Sick of Myself, a merciless portrait of fame-seekers and the extremes they’re willing to go to attain it.

Borgli still has fame on his mind in Dream Scenario. Cage is Paul Matthews, an evolutionary biology professor with a chip on his shoulder over his inability to publish. His peers are doing it left and right, taking his “ideas” while he’s left in the dust.

Suddenly, he starts popping up in people’s dreams — typically as a passive figure in the face of catastrophe. While Paul isn’t too pleased with being seen as ineffective, he’s happy to capitalize on his undeserved notoriety. Then, everything changes for the worse.

Dream Scenario sees fame as both ephemeral, and exceedingly toxic, especially in a capitalist context. There’s a fantastic joke at the expense of the alt-right that exemplifies how everything can be commodified, repackaged, and sold to a receptive audience. The film is an equal opportunity offender though, as cancel culture also gets kicked.

The strong setup is well served by Cage, who plays the self-serving, petty-yet-likeable protagonist flawlessly.

For all its virtues, the last quarter of Dream Scenario is a letdown. Paul’s unravelling is rushed, supporting characters act inconsistently, and the resolution feels like a copout. The film never stops being entertaining, but after coming so close to being transcendent, its failure is tragic. ■