The Caveman's Valentine
“I have three projects now,” explained director Kasi Lemmons in a recent interview. “Two of them are pretty far out there. One of them is really far out there.” Lemmons made waves with her independent debut feature, Eve's Bayou. The powerful Southern Gothic brought widespread recognition to the young African-American director. Her second film, The Caveman's Valentine, will likely alienate some of Lemmon's audience.
Samuel L. Jackson plays the caveman, a schizophrenic homeless man named Romulus Ledbetter who dwells in a Central Park grotto. Ledbetter was once a Juilliard concert pianist. He has an ashamed, estranged cop daughter and an ex-wife (appearing periodically as an apparition). One day Romulus finds a good friend dead and suspects foul play. Of course, nobody will listen, so the mentally ill dreadlocked bum must sleuth his way into New York high society, solve the crime, and win back his daughter's respect.
Unreliable narrators are a staple of Gothic storytelling (think Edgar Allen Poe) but Lemmons oversteps believability when she has a host of Manhattanite power players readily inviting a ranting, foul-smelling homeless man into their apartments and social circles. Ann Magnuson's character even lures Romulus to bed. Her brother (Colm Feore), a photographer reminiscent of Mapplethorpe, is the primary suspect. Equally important, people suffering from schizophrenia simply aren't capable of detective work. Interpreting the caveman character as a complex metaphor doesn't work either.
In Eve's Bayou, Jackson took backseat to an excellent cast of well-developed female characters; this contributed in large part to its scope and success. Here he overtakes the film in ways which are bold and experimental, but ultimately lack cohesion.