Lest one think that all the playboy comedies tangentially inspired by 1996’s Swingers, about entertainment industry aspirants and the “beautiful babies” of which they’re in hot pursuit, had finally dried up, witness Cavemen, a blockheaded, sigh-inducing retread that evinces neither any particular originality nor freshness of telling.
Written and directed by Herschel Faber, Cavemen unfolds in mostly downtown Los Angeles, where would-be screenwriter Dean (Skylar Astin) lives in a loft with his three best friends: Jay (Chad Michael Murray), Pete (Kenny Wormald) and Andre (Dayo Okeniyi). Dean is a sensitive mope, but still has a no-strings-attached sexual relationship with Sara (Megan Stevenson), who likes things that way. Pete has an on-again, off-again girlfriend, Beth (Amanda Jane Cooper), but the other two guys are bar scene prowlers of different categorizations who enjoy holding forth with theories on sex and dating and generally lecturing Dean about getting his head out of his ass and enjoying the single life.
Dean, though, pines for something a bit more substantive. Naturally, wouldn’t you know it, there’s also a girl he went to college and went on a single date with, Tess (Camilla Belle), who works with both Dean and Jay. Ergo, much awkward and unconvincing sidestepping of latent attraction ensues, prior to the requisite scene of running, flowers in hand, to intercept a departing taxi.
Films that take writers as their central characters always exist on a somewhat slippery slope, because they run the risk of either unduly venerating the creative process or coming across as indulgent. Cavemen, though, is just lazy, and stocked with female characters so offensively undersketched that Gloria Allred might well want to consider legal action.
Faber, a produced screenwriter making his directorial debut, most likely fancies Dean as some sort of stand-in—a fact which makes the utter lack of convincing depth to his characterization all the more perplexing. Faber has an agent (Jason Patric) magically drop into Dean’s life to confirm his talent to viewers, but doesn’t provide any compelling sense of who he really is as a writer or a person, except by way of the arc that experiencing requited love will magically provide the missing piece for Dean’s screenplay.
The rest of Faber’s screenplay, meanwhile, simply oscillates between wild derivativeness and plodding contrivance. When not cycling through inane nudge-nudge banter (sample: “What are you talking about?” “Jay’s dick.” “Oh, it should be a short conversation.”), Faber throws in phony romantic impediments and scenes in which Dean gleans wisdom through his nine-year-old nephew. Left to play only lurching, scene-specific motivations, the actors all fall back on predictably declamatory choices.
Not helping matters, the film’s production design is drab and unimaginative. A solitary point of differentiation, and inspiration for the movie’s title, comes from the fact that the living space the guys share supposedly has no windows or interior dividing walls, so their four adjacent bedrooms are curtained off, in diorama-like fashion. Faber and cinematographer Nic Sadler fail to creatively explore the awkwardness of this type of communal space, though.
If there’s any bright point at all, it’s in Cavemen’s soundtrack—inclusive of Mathclub, Names of Stars, Golden State and more—which manifests more insightful feeling than anything in Faber’s script.
Director: Herschel Faber
Writers: Herschel Faber
Starring: Skylar Astin, Camilla Belle, Chad Michael Murray, Alexis Knapp, Dayo Okeniyi, Kenny Wormald, Amanda Jane Cooper, Megan Stevenson, Jason Patric
Release Date: Feb. 7, 2014