At the center of the new film, "Masked & Anonymous" is Jack Fate, played by Bob Dylan, as an aging rock legend coaxed into performing a benefit concert in an unidentified third world country. Fate is also the son of the country's dying dictator, and like many fathers and sons, they got issues.
"Masked & Anonymous", which also has issues, marks the first screen appearance of Bob Dylan in 16 years. That, in and of itself, is what will draw audiences to this film. That and a ridiculously top heavy cast that includes: John Goodman, Jeff Bridges, Jessica Lange, Penelope Cruz, Luke Wilson, Angela Bassett, Bruce Dern, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer, Cheech Marin, Chris Penn, Giovanni Ribisi, Mickey Rourke, Fred Ward and Christian Slater.
But all the folk singing legends in the world and all the celebrity names in Hollywood cannot save this forced and fragmented train wreck of a film. The tragedy here is all this amazing talent gone to waste. One gets the sense that the entire picture was made so that everyone could hang out with Bob and brag to their friends about it. Do I blame them? No way!
My respect for Dylan as a poet, prophet and songwriter runs along the border of awe and worship, which is why it pains me to deliver the news: Bob just isn't a very good screenwriter and as an actor, he's uncomfortable. (Just conjuring the memory of the Dylan-Bassett love scene makes me wince.)
Even the film's writing credits are misleading and vague; Rene Fontaine and Sergei Petrov exist about as much as Charlie Kaufman's twin brother. It is now an open secret that Bob, and the director, Larry Charles, penned the script themselves, though no one will confirm or deny. Certainly, I can understand their hesitation to claim it.
With Dylan at the pen, the film is naturally loaded with beautiful and tragic sentences, like when Jack Fate sneers at a palace guard through the gate, "I got a lot of respect for a gun." With that pencil-thin moustache and his low ambling presence, Dylan often seems like Errol Flynn roughed up by Tom Waits and soothed over by Jesus Christ.
Dylan's presence is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. While this was the dangling carrot that brought so many high-level actors to the project, it is also the very thing that destroys it. Quickly, the film became a game of 'spot the celebrity', strange characters were presented randomly, primarily to give Val Kilmer something to do.
Perhaps, I, as a human being, have not evolved enough to hear all the prophetic musings uttered in the film. Perhaps I should have smoked marijuana prior to the screening. I can say, with complete conviction, that turning Dylan songs into films is a risky and disastrous business - those rich, smoky melodies on the stereo are flat and stinky on the screen. Beware.
© 2003 - Heather Clisby - Air Date: 7/30/02
Masked and Anonymous
USA - 2003