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'Caveman's Valentine'

Classical musician goes underground in 'Caveman's Valentine'

Friday, April 13, 2001

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A cinematic corollary to the saying that a rising tide lifts all boats: A Samuel L. Jackson performance elevates any movie.

'The Caveman's Valentine'

RATING: R for language, some violence, sexuality, nudity.

STARRING: Samuel L. Jackson, tamara tunie

DIRECTOR: Kasi Lemmons




He lends his powerful presence -- and his blazing eyes, palpable passion and rapid-fire speech -- to "The Caveman's Valentine," a neo-Gothic thriller that attempts to peer into and dramatize the mind of a paranoid schizophrenic named Romulus Ledbetter. Who just happens to be a musical genius who attended Juilliard. Who happens to discover a frozen corpse in a tree outside the cave where he lives in a New York park. Who happens to have a daughter who is a police officer.

Notice a pattern here?

"Caveman" is as complicated and twisted as the Caveman's hair, which is in nearly waist-length dreadlocks that crown his graying head and dramatically swing and sway. They're photographed in one scene as if they were snakes or octopus tentacles or living extensions of his being.

Based on George Dawes Green's novel of the same name, the movie stars Jackson as Romulus, also known as the Caveman because of his bizarre residence. He suffers from "brain typhoons," swarms of moth seraphs or angels buzzing about his skull, and he vacillates between lucidity and madness.

He asks a stranger for a pencil so he can record the classical music notes in his head, and yet he believes a man is watching him from atop the Chrysler building which emits blinding bursts of yellow and green light (visible only to him). When he discovers the body and gets a lead on the murderer's identity from a homeless junkie, he decides to pursue the case himself.

Romulus becomes convinced that a celebrated art photographer (Colm Feore) is to blame and he easily insinuates himself into his world. As he struggles to maintain a grasp on reality, his estranged and frozen-in-time wife (Tamara Tunie) appears and the voices occasionally refuse to be silenced.

"Caveman" rides dual tracks to the end, as the murder case is resolved and we actually enter an interior room in Romulus' brain where we see the seraphs.

The movie reunites Jackson and director Kasi Lemmons, who worked on "Eve's Bayou," an acclaimed and atmospheric portrait of the Louisiana bayou's black high society. That was a more conventional and cohesive story -- and a much better movie.

The more intrigued we become by Romulus, the more we want to know about his passage from family man to cave dweller. What really happened with his wife, other than the presumed gulf that grew with his mental problems? Why is he fixated on the Art Deco skyscraper as home of his nonsensical nemesis? Why is he the only one connecting the dots in this case?

"Caveman" also presents a lawyer who befriends Romulus, which is an admirable and necessary but implausible turn. This isn't "Six Degrees of Separation," after all, with a man claiming to be Sidney Poitier's son showing up on the doorstep.

Jackson provides a solid, mesmerizing center for "Caveman," and Homestead native Tunie is excellent as his ethereal muse and conscience. But too many questions remain unanswered and the murder mystery is just too bizarre and complex to make us glad to have crawled out of the cave with the Caveman.

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