Mark Reviews Movies

THE CAVEMAN'S VALENTINE

2 Ĺ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Kasi Lemmons

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Colm Feore, Ann Magnuson, Damir Andrei

MPAA Rating: (for language, some violence and sexuality)

Running Time: 1:45

Release Date: 3/2/01


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Review by Mark Dujsik

Heís a schizophrenic homeless man. Everyone who knows him knows him simply as "The Caveman." He used to go to Juilliard. Heís a musical genius. He fears a man named Stuyvesant. Or as his daughter says to him: "You live in a cave. You get the news from a TV thatís plugged into nothing. You think thereís a man on top of a tower whoís trying to take over the world. Youíre not well." His name is Romulus Ledbetter, and as played by Samuel L. Jackson, he dominates the predominately conventional The Cavemanís Valentine. His life is based in the illogicalóthe unreasonable. So placing him in a mystery that demands a logical and reasonable mind to solve it is a big mistake.

Romulusí life is complicated only by those complexities he presents himself. He is convinced that there is a man named Stuyvesant who lives at the top of a skyscraper controlling all and trying to defeat him. He is plagued by visions of his wife, moth-like creatures who represent his rage, the all-seeing eye of Stuyvesant, and his past life as a student at Juilliard. All of his suspicions are proven true (in his mind at least) when a corpse is left in a tree outside of his cave. Soon we learn from a friend of Romulus that the victim was a model for a famous photographer named Lepennraub (Colm Feore). The model was prone to talking about Romulus and calling him "the Voice." There are also rumors going around that the model was tortured by the artist, which all bring Romulus to suspect one man as the faceless slave of his nemesis Stuyvesant.

But there are complications to his progress as detective. First is his mental condition. No one, not even his own daughter Lulu (Aunjanue Ellis), a police officer, believes what he has to say. Second is his station in life. Luckily, this is bypassed by his befriending a bankruptcy attorney (Anthony Michael Hall) and his former position as a gifted student. Soon, through the help of an ex-classmate, Romulus is out of the city and into the home of Lepennraub.

The movie is essentially a mystery, taking the structure of every recent mystery novel-to-film adaptation. Suspicion upon suspicion is placed on Lepennraub until we are just about completely convinced he is not the villain. That would be too easy, and like all recent mystery novel-to-film adaptations, the most obvious and sound way out is never the final conclusion. The story is obviously based upon the structure of the cases of Sherlock Holmes. Itís a mystery stemmed in logic and reliant on one detail that everyone but the great detective misses. It even has the obligatory scene where the detective tells another character how he solved the mystery.

But the detective in this case is a man whose entire life is devoid of logic. His persistence is acceptable and understandable given his condition, but the demands of reason upon this character are far too spectacular to be accepted. He begins blindly digging into a murder and far too soon finds himself solving it. The characterís progression is unbalanced. One moment heís yelling at Stuyvesantís tower, and the next heís found the key to the mystery. Even during his closing argument, heís still talking to the vision of his wife. Another problem is that the character himself is much more intriguing than the mystery heís given. There is material here for a great character study, and many of these opportunities are passed over too quickly to continue with the plot. Jackson disappears into his role, and itís a great, showcasing performance.

This is Kasi Lemmonsí follow-up to her great directorial debut, Eveís Bayou. The dream-like and mysterious atmosphere of that film is still present here, but itís sacrificed many times to move the plot along. Itís unfortunate that all this talent is misplaced on what is, essentially, a contrived mystery. Put Romulus in his everyday world, dealing with his everyday issues, and you have great opportunities. This is what itíd be like to miss almost all of them.

Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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