Though many films that debut at the Sundance Film Festival are unusual, unique or in some other way “independent” (and not just in a corporate sense), others are just plain entertaining.
“The Caveman’s Valentine,” while possessed of some interesting directorial touches that put it in good company with its Sundance brethren, is more of a genre picture than anything. It’s a psychological thriller about a paranoid-schizophrenic named Romulus (Samuel L. Jackson) who lives with his nappy dredlocks in a cave in a New York City park. He insists a man named Stuyvesant is effecting a world-domination plot from atop the Empire State Building, and that he, Romulus, is a frequent victim of Stuyvesant’s machinations. He rants and raves and frightens people on the streets of Manhattan, an imposing figure made more intimidating by his wildness.
But Rom wasn’t always like this. Trained at Juilliard, he was a brilliant pianist before the pressures of life took their toll. His ex-wife Sheila (Tamra Tunie) haunts his imagination, voicing his fears and also serving as his muse. His daughter, Lulu (Aunjanue Ellis), is a cop who is embarrassed by her father.
On Valentine’s Day, Rom awakens to find a frozen corpse perched in a tree near his cave. The police identify him as Scott, a gay junkie seen running around town half-naked just prior to his death. He froze to death, that’s all.
Scott’s former boyfriend, Matthew (Rodney Eastman), tells Rom more of the facts, though. Scott was posing for renowned photographer David Leppenraub (Colm Feore), who treated Scott like a love slave and a possession. Matthew says not only did Leppenraub torture Scott, but he had someone videotape it, too. When Scott tried to blackmail the artist with that tape, Leppenraub killed him.
The police (read: Lulu) don’t put much stock in Rom’s story, especially since he attributes Leppenraub’s actions to his involvement with the ever-present Stuyvesant. So Rom has to solve the crime on his own. After obtaining a new suit and a shower, he gets himself invited to a party at Leppenraub’s rural cabin/studio, where he meets Leppenraub’s sister Moira (Ann Magnuson) and his new model, a filmmaker named Joey (Jay Rodan). Joey, Rom figures out, was the one who videotaped the torture. The only problem now is how to get the tape.
Essentially, this is your basic movie about a regular guy who has to solve a crime that the police won’t or can’t do anything with. It also has an embarrassingly Scooby-Doo-ish ending (“…if it hadn’t been for you meddling homeless men…!”), and has more than a little fun with throw-away characters becoming important later on. Genre conventions aside, though, director Kasi Lemmons employs a style that is busy without being cluttered. It seems there’s always something going on: primitive-sounding music, quick flashes into Rom’s point of view, or Gothic shots of hellish-looking angels. She also uses a rather catchy technique one might call Delusion-Cam, in which we see in actuality whatever Rom’s latest paranoid obsession is (beams of green light coming down from the Empire State Building, for example). It’s a fun way to mess with reality, showing us things that are not, technically, actually happening.
The idea of false reality figures into the film itself, too, with Rom and Leppenraub both being men who attempt to pass off illusion as fact, though for different reasons and to different ends. The real, objective facts of the situation unravel nicely, and the film comes out a satisfying bit of eeriness.
B (; )