In an acting tour de force in THE CAVEMAN'S VALENTINE, Samuel L. Jackson
plays Romulus Ledbetter, a paranoid schizophrenic with dirty dreadlocks and
standard homeless attire. Romulus, however, is careful to correct people.
He isn't a homeless person but a cave dweller. In his cave in a public
park, he watches TV without having to plug in any wires. Wherever he walks,
there are evil signals coming his way from the top of the nefarious, art
deco Chrysler Building in New York. The yellow-colored Y rays are
tolerable, but the new green-colored Z rays are pretty sinister.
So what is the story about? It's a murder mystery with Romulus as a blend
of the lead characters of SHINE, "Columbo," and THE FISHER KING. A
Julliard-trained, classical pianist, Romulus is a highly intelligent and
gifted man who has lost his sanity but not his mind. Jackson avoids all of
the pitfalls of such a role, delivering a performance that makes Romulus a
complex character who deserves our sympathy and our understanding.
Being, well, nuts, no one will pay attention to Romulus when he claims that
the guy found frozen in a tree near his cave was murdered. He suspects
controversial artist David Leppenraub (Colm Feore) since the murdered young
man was one of Leppenraub's models. Leppenraub is fond of making
inflammatory remarks about his art. ("All great art is born of suffering."
and "If the price of rapture is a mountain of suffering, shouldn't the fee
Director Kasi Lemmons, whose only other film was the acclaimed EVE'S BAYOU,
has an acute sense of the visual. Romulus's many surrealist dream sequences
are particularly compelling, giving us an enhanced awareness of his pain.
My favorite subtheme in the story involves a bankruptcy lawyer named Bob,
played with a boyish innocence by Anthony Michael Hall, who provides Romulus
with a suit and a shower. Bob's apartment is furnished completely in 1930s
decor since that was the "golden era" for his profession.
THE CAVEMAN'S VALENTINE doesn't quite fit into any category. It's a fairly
thin mystery but a heck of a character study. Whatever it is, it keeps your
eyes glued to the screen from beginning to end. Without Jackson to play the
central role, the production would have been hopeless. But he did agree to
play it and made it, thereby, a handsome addition to the Jackson collection.
THE CAVEMAN'S VALENTINE runs 1:43. It is rated R for language, some
violence and sexuality and would be acceptable for older teenagers.
Copyright © 2001 Steve Rhodes