"What if Nicolas Cage was in all of our dreams” is the entertaining basis of Kristoffer Borgli’s fun-yet-shallow satire of our fame-hungry era. The joy of Cage giving his all to a brilliantly absurd character buys Dream Scenario a lot of goodwill. This cannot mask the fact that Borgli is better at name-checking trendy ideas than exploring or understanding them.
Essaying a brand of neurotic loser that harks back to his dual role in Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation, Cage plays Dr Paul Matthews, a professor of evolutionary biology at the fictional Ostler university.
When not lecturing students about how zebras survive by blending in with the herd (a metaphor so flogged as to produce its own stripes) he is venting a simmering status envy to his long-suffering wife Janet (Julianne Nicholson).
Matthews is so desperate for recognition that when an ex-girlfriend runs up with fangirl enthusiasm to say that he has been showing up in her dreams – and it emerges that this is happening to countless others whom Paul has never met – he seizes his chance to stand out.
The first 30 minutes of Dream Scenario are a hoot. Cage inhabits every contradictory impulse of an entitled man feigning humility as he is given the spotlight he craves. Never mind that Paul is a bystander in the collective unconscious, loitering as the dreamer combats peril. Borgli uses rhythmic editing and media language as punchlines. A suggestion that Paul cautiously think through his next moves cuts straight to his grinning face for a TV interview titled, ‘Area Man Center of Dream Epidemic’.
Borgli’s screenwriting savvy is evident as he mixes the rarefied language of academia with tabloidese, meaning that Paul is bodied by dialogue like, “You believe in metaphysics if it proves that you’re special.”
Yet this impulse to humiliate its subject emerges as Dream Scenario’s only consistent interest. While the supporting cast – most notably Dylan Gelula as an employee of a branding agency called Thoughts? – is good, giving and game, once the initial giddy humour of the premise has been rinsed, the film runs out of its own... thoughts.
This becomes especially grating when Borgli takes scattershot aim at concepts like trauma, lived experience and cancel culture, mistaking the fact that he knows these words for a withering critique.
His 2022 feature, Sick of Myself, was about an artist who makes herself sick to help her career. Both films have a shock jock premise married to sketch-show storytelling. But Nicolas Cage is a dream come true.
102 mins, cert 15
In cinemas now