Written and directed by first-time director Herschel Faber, CAVEMEN boasts some entertaining and emotionally arced performances by Skylar Astin, Chad Michael Murray, Kenny Wormald and the lone gal in the group, Camilla Belle (look, she faced off with baby Velociraptors in "The Lost World", I think she can hold her own with the guys), but its strongest suit is its cinematography and technical excellence.
Dean is a struggling screenwriter. Jay is a wannabe actor and prides himself on screwing a different girl every night. Pete kinda just hangs around whining as their best friend while Andre thrives on cheating on his girlfriend. And of course, all are bartending while waiting for their big breaks. Together, they live in a Downtown LA/Little Tokyo loft with no doors or windows which they affectionately refer to as "the cave". In typical guy fashion a la "It Happened One Night", sheets hung from the ceiling separate their sleeping compartments which means that "when one of us has sex, we all have sex." But for Dean, something is missing. He wants a girlfriend and not just a girl to have sex with; a girl to love and who will love him. Dean's female BFF is Tess and while everyone else can see these two are a match made in heaven, Dean is oblivious, ultimately pushing Tess into Jay's arms while he enters into a relationship with the severely flawed and heavily medicated Sara.
Unfortunately, CAVEMEN is replete with genre cliches of wine, women, sex and song but then there are moments of brilliance as writer/director Faber steals our hearts with beautifully lensed, emotionally evocative montages that showcase not only the work of cinematographer Nic Sadler, but show Faber's technical skill as a director and also in surrounding himself with good people. There is a gloss, polish and saturation to the visual bandwidth of the film that metaphorically captures the fast life and hard living of the boys, punctuating life with color and emotion. While story methods may be trope and some of the dialogue dated, the visuals are not, and neither are the performances.
Skylar Astin is endearing. As Dean, he is textured. We feel his frustration as a struggling writer. He makes us feel Dean's sadness with his love life. But above all, we see the distinct differential between Dean's relationship with "the boys" and with Camilla Belle's Tess and that is what sets this story apart. So often the female and male BFF situation has everyone playing in the sandbox as one of the guys, but not here. Astin, together with Belle, radiate different levels that are welcoming and defining as to the dynamic of Dean and Tess.
Embracing the character of Jay, Chad Michael Murray dazzles. Superficially a womanizing "douche", Murray then weaves a tapestry of redemption by film's end that is heartwarming. In the hands of a less skilled actor, Jay would have proven a one-note, but not with Murray in charge. Beautifully played. A nice surprise is a cameo by Jason Patric as Dean's wannabe agent/producer. Sage, wise and always drinking, the character is reminiscent of old Hollywood in look and feel while casting Patric is a nice touchstone to rom-coms of the 80's and 90's.
Disturbing and distracting are the superficial relationships of Andre and Pete, and most particularly with a positing of the "mud puddle test" and a subsequent scene involving Pete's lady falling into a mud puddle. Any guy that even thinks it's a funny situation doesn't deserve a girlfriend. The whole idea just doesn't sit well. Cutely sweet are some scenes involving Dean and the local florist that make your heart go "aww", especially the final scene which is a star-kissed Valentine.
Written and Directed by Herschel Faber
Cast: Skylar Astin, Chad Michael Murray, Camilla Belle, Kenny Wormald, Jason Patri