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The Caveman's Valentine

Starring Samuel L. Jackson; Ann Magnuson, Aunjanue Elis, Tamara Tunie, Anthony Michael Hall and Colm Feore
Screenplay by George Dawes Green, based on his novel
Directed by Kasi Lemmons

IN SHORT: A big disappointment. [Rated R for Language, Some Violence and Sexuality.]

As always, no comparison is made to the Source Material. In this case, though, novelist George Dawes Green adapted his own work. That means he should have known what to leave in or take out to make this complicated story work in the cinematic form. He didn't. (What else are we to make of the situation when audience members start mumbling "I don't believe any of this!" when the film is barely half over -- and we agree with them whole heartedly?)

It's a great idea for a movie. A one-time Julliard student now lives the life of a vagrant inside a cluster of rocks that form a "cave" in one of New York City's public parks. While no one else will believe him, or any of the other homeless that contribute clues to the murder of one of their own, through sheer determination he tracks a trail leading to the upper classes of wealth, power and the oh-so-snotty world of famous art dealers. The police don't believe him because a) he's crazy and b) there's no evidence to support any of the outrageous accusations being made.

The "caveman's" real name is Romulus Ledbetter but since he lives inside a pile of rocks in "Inwood Park" (which we're guessing is supposed to represent the more famous Central Park), everyone calls Samuel L. Jackson "Caveman". The Valentine present of this film's title is the frozen corpse of junkie Scotty Gates (Sean MacMahon) sitting on the branch of a tree near the "cave". Scotty is pretty much a stranger to the caveman, though a local junkie named Matthew (Rodney Eastman) says that isn't so. Matthew's story, that Scotty was tortured and killed by famed photographer David Leppenraub (Colm Feore) is dismissed by the local cops as the ravings of a homeless junkie. As it turns out, the placement of the body wasn't a coincidence -- the caveman's daughter Lulu (Aunjanue Ellis) is a detective and this inside connection gets the case looked into with a bit more detail than usual.

The story, as told by Matthew goes that Scotty was employed as a model by the famed A-list photog Leppenraub who has a penchant for taking photos of effeminate guys being tortured. Allegedly there is a video of such a torture session, and Scotty was killed after trying to blackmail Leppenraub Such is the things that great murder mysteries are made of -- scum victims and rich, influential suspects. Would that The Caveman's Valentine were such a great murder mystery. What it is is a complicated mishmash whose eventual explanation is so complicated that none of the paying audience could make sense of it . . .

Which is probably why the solution makes perfect sense to a man who is wracked by "brain typhoons" caused by yellow "Y-beams" and green "Z-beams" emanating from the spires of the Chrysler Building. Somewhere inside that landmark, a mysterious evil mastermind named Cornelius Gould Stuyvesant tracks and torments our hapless hero.

Truth is, alternating between "sane" and "tormented" is not beyond the range of Samuel L. Jackson and he is guided between these transitory stages by the imagined muse Sheila (Tamar Tunie) who we think bears the form of his wife. The most impressive part of Jackson's performance come in these segments as well as when "Rom" makes the transition from ragged to civilized, cleaned up with the help of an investment banker (Anthony Michael Hall), his wife (Kate McNeil) and a borrowed suit and coat. The "disguise" is necessary to help ROM infiltrate a party at Leppenraub's upstate farm, helped by a Julliard schoolmate who has no idea of what the years have done to the genius composer that once was Romulus Ledbetter.

It is at this point where reality and a convoluted story crash into each other like a train wreck. Consider this: the rich couple who clean up and shave and clothe this man take one look at his shoes and don't think "polish?" Or perhaps the outrage expressed by Leppenraub's sister Moira (Ann Magnuson) -- "do you think I sleep with every man I meet?!?" -- when ROM, at their second meeting, asks her about a tattoo allegedly to be found on the dead man's butt. Yes, she bedded our hero at their first meeting. We'll also ignore the visual fact that New York City hasn't had subway cars that look like the ones in this movie, ever.

If the movie was compelling, such petty details would not have caught our eye. But they did.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Caveman's Valentine, he would have paid...


And as we said above, the ultimate solution to the murder mystery is so out of whack that you'd have to be a lunatic to follow the explanation. That probably makes sense in the context of the original novel, but The Caveman's Valentine has all the feel of an adaptation in which huge chunks of story are missing.

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