The result of this combination is an overly ambitious film that's as muddled and cryptic as a mumble-filled Dylan vocal. Dylan stars as the symbolically named Jack Fate, an apparent musical legend, jailed in the midst of a brutally downtrodden America where the government has taken over, war is rampant, and even the counter-revolutionaries have counter-revolutionaries.
Fate is freed and called to play in a "benefit concert" as the show's only performer by a sleazy, selfish unkempt promoter named Uncle Sweetheart (John Goodman). Masked & Anonymous takes us on Fate's long journey to the gig, interspersing a Hollywood All-Star Revue of actors playing roles ranging from useless-and-tiny (Christian Slater, Bruce Dern, Fred Ward) to small-but-purposeful (Angela Bassett, Mickey Rourke). What shows up on screen is a baffling mishmash of vignettes, all scripted with a pseudo-philosophical mumbo-jumbo that drains the film of any energy or insight.
I gather that the film is supposed to trigger memories of the idealism of Dylan's music and its era (good lord, every character in this movie has a high-minded idealism). But the dialogue makes the cast sound like soapbox philosophers rather than concerned thinkers. Even a group of actors as deep and talented as this can't read these lines with the gravity and dark humor that was intended; instead, everyone just sounds enormously self-indulgent. Dylan, a superb, thoughtful lyricist, tries to infuse the film with the hope, playfulness and melancholy of his songs, and therein lies the problem: perhaps the words sound so ridiculous because they're not set to music.
Appropriately, the actual musical performances provide the most enjoyable scenes in the film. Charles shoots Dylan (or Fate, if you must) and his band in clear, warm stage lighting, sticking with a single camera for each song. These numbers -- inserted throughout the film with little regard to the accompanying narrative -- provide a wonderful combination of excitement and serenity. Considering Dylan's stature and longevity, the recording of these songs is easily the most important aspect of a film drowning in self-importance.
Dylan's presence might explain why so many big names joined this project: when most of the ensemble cast heard that Bob Dylan was making a film in which he would perform, that was probably all they needed to hear. In fact, the movie's press notes brag about the gang of actors that gathered to watch Dylan shoot his onstage scenes. If this was indeed the determining factor for the actors, then Masked & Anonymous really is the self-serving hyper-idealized drivel that it appears to be on the screen.
Reports from a couple of film festivals reveal that, when faced with questions regarding the authors of Masked & Anonymous, Larry Charles has a generally sly reply. At Sundance, he proclaimed, "We don't talk about the writing of this movie." Good idea.
Acid tan. That explains everything.
Run time: 16 mins
Production compaines: BBC Films, Intermedia Films
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
IMDB: 5.3 / 10
Director: Larry Charles
Starring: Bob Dylan as Jack Fate, Jeff Bridges as Tom Friend, Penélope Cruz as Pagan Lace, John Goodman as Uncle Sweetheart, Jessica Lange as Nina Veronica, Luke Wilson as Bobby Cupid, Val Kilmer as Animal Wrangler, Angela Bassett as Mistress, Steven Bauer as Edgar, Michael Paul Chan as Guard, Bruce Dern as Editor, Ed Harris as Oscar Vogel, Cheech Marin as Prospero, Chris Penn as Crew Guy #2, Giovanni Ribisi as Soldier, Mickey Rourke as Edmund, Richard C. Sarafian as President (as Richard Sarafian), Christian Slater as Crew Guy #1, Susan Tyrrell as Ella the Fortune Teller, Fred Ward as Drunk, Robert Wisdom as Lucius