Nicolas Cage's private recession -- On the brink of financial ruin, the star hastily is looking for a hit with ''Season of the Witch'' and ''The Sorcerer's Apprentice''

This should have been a great week for Nicolas Cage. After years of being knocked for big-paycheck films like Ghost Rider and National Treasure, the 45-year-old has been getting rave reviews for the edgy new Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. But just as things are looking up on screen, his life off of it is spinning out of control thanks to a pair of foreclosed homes and a nasty new lawsuit.

Cage’s troubles began in July, when the IRS slapped a lien on his big-ticket portfolio of real estate holdings, due to $6.35 million in unpaid taxes dating back to 2002. Then, in an unrelated case last month, the Oscar winner was sued by an L.A. bank for failing to repay a $2 million loan. How did a guy who earns up to $20 million per picture get into such a mess?

Cage’s attorney, Martin Singer, claims that the star’s former financial adviser is to blame. Accordingly, they filed a $20 million lawsuit against Samuel J. Levin on Oct. 16, claiming that the business manager ”lined his pockets with several million dollars in business management fees while sending Cage down a path toward financial ruin.”

Levin, who was on Cage’s payroll from 2001 to 2008, did not return calls seeking comment. However, he filed a countersuit against Cage on Nov. 12, demanding more than $120,000 in unpaid fees and claiming the actor was already ”deeply in debt” when Levin was hired. The suit also offers a damning description of the star’s extravagant lifestyle. Levin alleges that in 2007 alone, Cage dropped $33 million on three homes and bought 22 cars — including nine Rolls Royces — and 47 pieces of artwork and ”exotic items.” (Like what? Cage reportedly outbid Leonardo DiCaprio to buy a dinosaur skull for $276,000.)

Certainly the actor’s conspicuous consumption is well documented. As Cage himself once said, ”I find ways of spending money that mystify everybody around me.” His real estate empire alone comprised more than a dozen Xanadu-scale homes?including two castles?and two islands in the Bahamas. Then again, his eccentricity has always been part of his charm. ”He’s not some cookie-cutter actor,” says one producer who’s worked with Cage. ”He’s a great, odd, interesting guy.”

Singer says that Cage regularly earns $20 million a year, and intends to repay the IRS all that is owed. Despite a sour housing market, the actor has put ”For Sale” signs on several of his properties. Last week he auctioned off two foreclosed estates in New Orleans for $4.5 million?well below the combined $7 million he’d once been asking.

With his soaring debts, it seems likely Cage will be working overtime to raise cash. In fact, he already has three films in the can for 2010: In March, he’ll star in the medieval adventure Season of the Witch; in April, he can be seen in the superhero action comedy Kick-Ass; and in July, he’ll carry the high-profile action flick The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. And it probably won’t stop there, either. In other words, don’t be surprised to see a poster for National Treasure 3 sometime soon.
Additional reporting by Nicole Sperling