The Caveman's Valentine
Sprinkled with equal parts Gothic symbolism, pointed class critique, pop psychology, and by-the-numbers suspense, Kasi Lemmons' The Caveman's Valentine is a calamitous mess of ideas struggling haplessly to make sense together. Obscured under a ratty thicket of dreadlocks and facial hair, Samuel L. Jackson is not so much a character as a walking concept: Once a gifted young pianist and composer at Juilliard, he's now a homeless, delusional schizophrenic who lives in a park cave and rants about an all-powerful man who monitors him with beams emanating from the top of the Chrysler Building. He also proves to be an ace detective after he discovers the frozen body of a young man in a tree and intuitively suspects foul play. Determined to solve the case to win the love of his estranged policewoman daughter (Aunjanue Ellis), Jackson is initially convinced the murder is the handiwork of his invisible nemesis, but the clues lead him back into the New York art circle he'd mysteriously abandoned years earlier. His chief suspect is a celebrity photographer (Colm Feore) who allegedly tortures boyish models to enhance his disturbing images. Based on the novel by George Dawes Green, who also adapted the script, The Caveman's Valentine cheapens an intriguing story by trading it for an insipid one. When it stays inside Jackson's head, which buzzes with insidious voices and dancing moth seraphs, the film suggests an abstract, paranoid vision of the city as it might be seen by the underclass. Though his reasons for leaving Juilliard are never explained, Jackson's discovery of this unseen, oppressive force is probably what drives him into a cave, his refuge from corruption and evil. In addition to the strong Gothic and supernatural elements, the capacity for self-delusion was also a central theme in Lemmons' promising directorial debut, Eve's Bayou, which probably explains her attraction to Valentine's material. But at a certain point, this angle is virtually abandoned in favor of a laughably implausible whodunit that trivializes everything that preceded it. Reportedly cut by 23 minutes before its Sundance premiere, The Caveman's Valentine is riddled with logistical problems and key characters who drop in and out of the narrative. A longer version might have filled in a few of the gaps, but it probably wouldn't shake the impression that Lemmons' laudable ambition got the better of her this time out.