I don't remember why I first watched this movie, perhaps I saw imagery from it somewhere and thought, "Hey! Samuel L. Jackson! Can't be TOO bad!"
Mr. Jackson plays one Romulus "The Caveman" Ledbetter, occupant of a "rocky enclosure" in Innwood Park, New York, father of Lulu (Anjanue--ouch, phonetic spelling of French?--Ellis) and ex(?)-husband of Sheila (Tamara Tunie). The first thing we see is inside his head, where his Juilliard-trained fingers still have a piano to occupy themselves with, playing to the accompaniment of the "moth-seraphs" that also occupy his mind. Rom occupies this cave and is referred to as "Caveman" because he is a paranoid schizophrenic. He finds outside his cave on Valentine's Day, the body of model Scotty Gates (Sean MacMahon), high in a tree. He reports this to his daughter Lulu, and we find she is in fact a police officer. Known for his rants about "Cornelius Gould Stuyvesant," Rom believes the man occupies the Chrysler Building and sends out "Y" and "Z" Rays to control the populace and deny them their freedom of mind. As such, Lulu is reluctant to believe him, but eventually does come to find the body is present as he has claimed, and so an investigation begins into his death, with Rom strongly suspecting photographer David Leppenraub (Colm Feore) is behind the crime.
The strongest element by far is the imagery associated with Romulus' mind, the forceful editing and performance of the athletes portraying the "moth-seraphs" is unbelievably striking and primal, as they represent something of the forces of justice and vengeance in the mind of Ledbetter. The rest of the plot is not overly engaging, and George Dawes Green's screenplay (based on his own book) is a bit clumsy, with Romulus seeming too coherent at too many of the right times, or a little too "crazy" to be realistically crazy, and characters either accepting or rejecting him with equal measures of imbalanced and "convenient" reality or fiction. Bob (Anthony Michael Hall) and Betty (Kate McNeil) are Romulus' idea of the upper class, and they take Romulus in, surprised by the training he possesses musically and enthralled by it, sometimes seeming respectful of his paranoia, other times inappropriately disturbed by it. Jackson's performance, and most of them in the film, are quite good, with our ability to sympathize with this crazed man intact, yet a distance maintained with a believably threatening, uncomfortable level of disconnection from reality never being too far from us. His eventual affair with Moira Leppenraub (Ann Magnuson) is really uncomfortable, seeming grossly out of place and strange, as if she is either taking advantage of him or is not aware of his madness--though this feeling is of course dampened by a script that can't seem to make up its mind just how far gone he is from reality.
In the end, the general reviews around are essentially correct--the film is well put together and creative, but its reach exceeds its grasp, and it stumbles a fair bit of the time. While it's fascinating to have a main character so removed from our understanding, it also makes it difficult for us to appreciate his approach, and terribly difficult to believe his abilities as a detective, as if he is conveniently made not crazy at the appropriate points to let the mystery be solved. A schizophrenic detective is simply not plausible as filmed.