Caveman (1981) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG for nudity, crude humor, and some language
Running time: 91 min.
Cast: Ringo Starr, Dennis Quaid, John Matuszak, Shelley Long, Barbara Bach, Jack Gilford, Avery Schreiber, Cork Hubbert, Mark King, Paco Morayta, Evan C. Kim, Miguel Angel Fuentes, Ed Greenberg, Carl Lumbly, Jack Scalici, Richard Moll
Director: Carl Gottlieb
Screenplay: Rudy De Luca, Carl Gottlieb
Review published May 19, 2007
The year is "One Zillion B.C.", where a group of our ancestors, the hordes of cavemen, are busy learning the ways of the world, and of survival. Our hero is Atouk (Starr, Let It Be), a lonely caveman who only has eyes for cavegirl Lana (Bach, The Spy Who Loved Me). Trouble is that Lana is the mate of Tonda (Matuszak, The Goonies), the biggest and baddest caveman around, and he has no trouble maintaining his position. With the help of his best friend, Lar (Quaid, Breaking Away), and a motley group of other ostracized cavemen, Atouk plans to mount an attack on Tonda and his gang for the hand of his favorite cave-dame.
Screenwriter Carl Gottlieb (The Jerk, Jaws 2) takes his first stab at directing a feature film, based on the screenplay he co-wrote, and ends up making almost an extended version of the caveman sequence of History of the World Part I, which came out the same year. It should be no surprise that there are similarities between Gottlieb's work and that of Mel Brooks -- the screenplay is co-written by longtime Brooks collaborator Rudy De Luca (High Anxiety, Silent Movie), who also appeared in the aforementioned Brooks film. (Come to think of it, Quest for Fire also came out around the same time -- I guess cavemen flicks were in that year).
Though some might complain that the look of the film is cheesy, featuring actors and extras that aren't fit to be featured in a feature film, it should be remembered that this is a spoof of the cheesy dinosaur and caveman movies of the 1950s and 1960s, and therefore, the dated stop-motion animation, cheap-looking sets, and unconvincing costumes are in keeping with the nature of the satire. In fact, the dinosaur effects look so comical, they only enhance the film's likeability -- how can you not love these sorry-looking, bug-eyed lizards?
I should also mention that, though a spoof, Caveman should be easy to follow as a straightforward comic adventure, and definitely doesn't merit going out of your way to see the films from which Gottlieb drew inspiration.
Ringo Starr's hangdog turn is memorable, as is John Matuszak's bully-ish charm as the main villain. Barbara Bach provides some choice eye candy for all of us male pigs; she apparently caught the eye of Ringo, both as Atouk and not, as he would end up marrying her in real life. The film also features funny performances by two future stars in Dennis Quaid and Shelley Long ("Cheers").
For what it is, Caveman is a refreshingly inventive comedy that took a chance on a unique concept, and it has enough good gags to carry its hit-and-miss comic momentum up to the very end. Nicely scored by Lalo Schifrin (The Big Brawl, The Amityville Horror) -- the campfire song would be emulated somewhat by John Williams for his Ewok campfire song in Return of the Jedi -- with a good mix of character actors at the forefront, it is a welcome mix of cheesy action and sophomoric, physical humor that, even if it doesn't always produce huge laughs, is hard to despise, as it is so earnest and innocuous. Though it won't be a stretch to say that it doesn't cater to every taste, if you consider your tastes in humor to run on the juvenile side, it's worth a look for some lowbrow laughs.
©2007 Vince Leo