As though timed precisely to make “That Awkward Moment” look better, along comes “Cavemen,” a vapid and empty-headed rom-com about dudes in the big city that makes the Zac Efron/Miles Teller/Michael B. Jordan comedy seem like David Mamet by comparison.
Apparently answering the unasked question, “What would happen if you told a 12-year-old at screenwriting camp to combine ‘Swingers’ and ‘(500) Days of Summer’?” writer-director Herschel Faber compiles an assemblage of trite observations about relationships and movie clichés you forgot even existed into a rancid stew of ennui and cynicism.
What kind of clichés, you ask? There are two separate scenes of the hero chasing after the woman he loves — his longtime platonic pal, natch — as she drives away in a cab, and two other scenes in which someone hops into a taxi and says, “Follow that car.” Mind you, this movie is set in Los Angeles, a city where it’s difficult to get a cab to show up if you called in advance. They only magically appear in movies as dumb as this one.
The guy doing all that running is Dean (Skylar Astin, “Pitch Perfect”), who shares a loft space downtown with three of his horndog bros. Despite the fact that their living space provides no doors or walls between the sleeping quarters (it’s a converted factory), all of the roommates seem to have an endless stream of ladies clattering in and out of the apartment.
Dean is, of course, a screenwriter, and he’s trying to write a love story despite the fact that he knows nothing about being in love. (Someone might have pointed out to Faber that you can take the whole “write what you know” concept too far.) It’s obvious from the moment she first enters the frame that Tess (Camilla Belle), Dean’s best pal, is the perfect woman for whom he’s been waiting.
But no, we have 90 or so minutes to kill, so Dean has to bobble his big moment with her, sending her running to the arms of his best pal Jay (Chad Michael Murray), a roguish playboy of a struggling actor, even though it’s been made clear that Tess is far too intelligent to be seduced by someone who’s so obviously a player.
To kill time until the inevitable ending, Dean learns life lessons from his nine-year-old nephew, he meets with his screenwriter group (they hate his script, and they’re right), he hears messages from the universe via subway loudspeaker, and he receives encouragement from a boozy producer (Jason Patric, who clearly owed someone a favor) who thinks Dean’s writing merits being turned into a movie.
What “Cavemen” has going for it is Astin and Belle — even though, like Belle’s character, they read as far too intelligent to be taken in by material like this. Actors gotta work, yes, but you can feel these two dancing as fast as they can to make these contrived characters and artificial situations somehow come to life.
In Astin and Belle’s defense, no one could, but they each get a gold star for turning this sow’s ear of a movie into a slightly less disgusting sow’s ear.