Movie Review By Heather Clisby
"The Caveman's Valentine" stars Samuel L. Jackson as a psychotic homeless guy, Romulus Ledbetter, who suddenly finds himself playing detective and investigating a murder mystery. The film is directed by Kasi Lemmons whose first effort, "Eve's Bayou" was like eating a decadent piece of candy. This film is more standard fare.
Romulus is the dirty, raving madman that walks the streets of New York espousing his paranoid theories on every passerby. We've all seen that guy, no matter where we live. Romulus was once a promising composer and pianist but the inner demons got the best of him and his once bright future has crumbled to dust. We can barely picture how it must have been – with his long, dusty grey dreads and layers of filthy rags. We can see, however, that it's been a long, long time since Romulus studied at Julliard.
Aunjanue Ellis is Romulus's strong police officer daughter, Lulu. It is the pain of this broken father/daughter relationship that lies at the heart of the film, much like "Eve's Bayou." Lulu is weary from being disappointed in her father and more than a little ashamed of what he's become. She tries time and time again to help but he refuses.
Tamara Tunie makes the most of a plum role, that of Romulus's ex-wife, Sheila. We never actually meet what she must be like after years of heartbreak, we only see her in Romulus's mind. She is stunning, smart and still supportive of his strange ways, even while mocking his fantasies of her. "You really think I look like this after all these years? You are crazy." Most of all, she remembers what he was like before he gave up. His conversations with this ghost of a memory are what help us get to know what's under the raving fašade.
Anthony Michael Hall (god bless him for coming this far) plays Bob, a lawyer who takes an interest in Romulus and – in a very satisfying scene – lets him shower, shave and take on a pricey new suit. Watching Romulus take off his crusty, filthy clothing and look at his body naked in the mirror was telling. Realistically, how often does a homeless person get to see their own body? Jackson was so accurate, such wild-eyed wonder and curiosity about himself. So much time spent in his head, he forgot about the rest of the package.
One day, Romulus leaves his city park cave dwelling to discover a frozen body stuck in a tree; and so the mystery begins. Clues lead to a famous photographer, David Leppenraub, played chillingly by Colm Feore. Now then, who will believe the accusations of a smelly street person? Nobody, for a long time, of course. Not even his own daughter will entertain his theories.
Romulus – sparked up with his new duds and clean shave – manages to infiltrate Leppenraub's upstate farmhouse gatherings and even bed his sexy sculptress of a sister, Moira, played by Ann Magnuson. The sex scene was lovely – Lemmons used lots of overhead lighting to accentuate the difference in their skin color; it was beautiful.
Though the story was engaging enough, the film is far from being a real thriller. Emotionally, also, I couldn't muster any tears. "The Caveman's Valentine" is mostly food-for-thought. It will make you think twice about the guy on the corner, screaming about government theories and the end of the world. How can we be so sure he doesn't know something we don't?
© 2001 - Heather Clisby - Air Date: 3/14/01
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