The Caveman's Valentine Kasi Lemmons
Published Mar 01, 2001"The Caveman's Valentine" is a noisy, volatile thriller, more character-driven than most, dominated by a high decibel performance by Samuel L. Jackson that drowns out almost everything around it. Jackson plays Romulus Ledbetter, a homeless man (well, his "home" is a makeshift cave), formerly a Julliard-trained pianist, who sets his unbalanced mind on the task of solving the murder of a fellow street dweller. The movie starts with Jackson yelling into the camera with that "I'm-sorry-did-I-break-your-concentration?" authority he perfected in his "Pulp Fiction" diatribes. He owns this movie, despite the excessively stylish flourishes from director Kasi Lemmons ("Eve's Bayou"), and it's easy to understand how he managed to get away with such a self-indulgent, rudderless performance when you notice that he's credited as the executive producer.
The character of Romulus is one of those juicy roles that actors, especially charismatic ones like Jackson, always love. He's a paranoid schizophrenic who believes that he's being psychically tormented by some unseen overlord named "Stuyvesant," who resides at the top of the Chrysler Building. The directorial perspective of the movie buys into his delusions, as if to convince us to trust them. Whenever Romulus feels that he's being watched, the camera cuts to a bird's-eye view of him through a grainy surveillance image. Even his inner demons are made tangible by scenes of seraphs flying around in a Gothic church (it's unclear as to whether these "visions" are benign or malevolent).
There is an inkling of an interesting theme about the nature of creativity at work in "The Caveman's Valentine"; Romulus suffers greatly because he can't express himself through his art, while the villain of the film can only create his art by causing others to suffer. This idea gets lost, however, in all of the pedantic "detective movie" details. Romulus, in his long black coat and Rasta dreadlocks, ends up leafing through autopsy reports and chasing down clues like an old gumshoe. When the movie finally resolves itself with a very conventional thriller finale, it felt like all the preceding sturm and drang had been nothing more than a muscle-flexing acting and directing exercise.