“Dream Scenario” – 3 stars out of 4

One of 2022’s more memorable films was, “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” which cast Nicholas Cage as himself in a fun and at times surreal comedy-adventure about a late-career actor who gets in over his head when a wealthy fan pays him to make an appearance at his birthday party.

2023’s “Dream Scenario” feels like a kindred spirit to “Massive Talent,” and the prospect of getting a yearly “quirky Nic Cage movie” of this caliber is promising to say the least. The premise is compelling on its own, but adding Cage to the mix makes “Dream Scenario” one of 2023’s highlights.

The story follows a college professor who inexplicably starts showing up in the dreams (and then nightmares) of numerous complete strangers. Cage plays Paul Matthews, an unremarkable professor with enough of a reputation as a bore that he is specifically not invited to trendy dinner parties with his peers. He does have a loving wife (Julianne Nicholson) and two daughters, though, and things get going when he turns up loitering in the background of one his daughter’s dreams.

There’s nothing all that odd about him turning up in the dreams of a family member, but in the days to come, other associates and then total strangers start having similar experiences. Once enough people realize the odd figure in their dreams is a real person, this being the 21st century, Paul quickly becomes a viral phenomenon, and initially he uses the opportunity to further his professional career. But while his first appearances are pretty benign—in fact, he’s initially annoyed that he seems like nothing more than a bystander in the dreams—things take a dark sociological turn once he starts becoming a more active participant in the dreams.

Initially, the idea of Nicholas Cage inexplicably loitering in the dreams of thousands of people is a quirky joy, and his bald-capped performance as Paul is a fun echo of his more neurotic characters in films like “Adaptation” more than his over-the-top action heroes. But as the movie progresses, its darker themes start to eclipse its quirky premise, and “Dream Scenario” becomes almost a low-key horror film, and a poignant and unsettling meditation on the nature of modern fame and cancel culture.

The result is a compelling and moody open-ended film that offers a sobering message, even if its premise might leave moviegoers wishing for more of a lighthearted product. “Dream Scenario” is absolutely a film worth watching, certainly one of the most memorable of 2023. But it is not what you might expect it to be.

“Dream Scenario” is rated R for profanity, violence, and some sexual content.

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