Dir: Larry Charles. USA. 2003. 120 min.
Masked And Anonymous screened at Sundance as a work-in-progress and director Larry Charles has his work cut out for him. A mish-mash of styles, genres and cameo appearances, as it stands it will annoy every constituency it aims to entertain. As a showcase for Bob Dylan it may yield enough clips to service a music video or two but there's no danger of his quitting his day job. Whatever the Seinfeld-directing alumnus was hoping to achieve, success has eluded him at every turn. Theatrical prospects are nil and home video will rely entirely on cross-marketing with music retailers. Its future will be as a novelty item - another train-wreck-with-famous-faces -- to be played on late-night cable.
Bob Dylan's history as an actor is inconsistent. If Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid is the high, this might be the low. As even his most ardent admirers will confess, Dylan's cryptic musings are best delivered with musical accompaniment not just because they're cryptic but because he doesn't tend to enunciate. Here, as dialogue, they come off as inanity. The only talent not wasted is Dylan's music, which suffuses the film, both in cover versions and performances by the man himself.
Imagine an alternate universe where California is a coup-shattered banana republic and Hollywood its rickety capital. The media is divided into armed camps, where content is something to kill for and editors keep their reporters on electronic leashes. TV executive Nina Veronica (Lange) decides what's needed is a benefit concert, so she hires concert promoter Uncle Sweetheart (Goodman) to enlist the necessary rock stars. The only one who is a remote possibility is a faded relic, Jack Fate (Dylan), and he's in prison. Sweetheart engineers his release, and soon Fate and his guitar are on a bus homeward bound.
When the headliner arrives at the fortified television studio, no one is impressed. Least of all the journalist (Bridges) assigned to cover the story - he's recently been released from house arrest by his editor. Between tracks of Fate and his band playing songs, the journalist interrogates the singer on the subject of pop culture, demanding answers for questions like: 'What about Janis, man'' A few hours before air-time, Fate heads out to find his one true-love (Bassett), the girl from whose arms he was ripped many years ago. Meanwhile, the president is dying and it turns out that Jack is his son, although not his heir.
Soon it's time to go back to the studio where the journalist assaults Uncle Sweetheart, Fate intervenes and his acolyte (Wilson) bludgeons the journalist to death with the neck of a guitar. As Fate says, 'Sometimes you need to know what things don't mean.' Amen.
Early in the film, Lange's TV exec delivers the only pithy line: 'How else do you get rock stars to do television. You either give them a cause or give them an award.' Ironically, the sheer number of cameos make the film itself a benefit concert and Bob Dylan its cause. Angela Bassett, Penelope Cruz, Bruce Dern, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer, Chris Penn, Giovanni Ribisi, Mickey Rourke, Christian Slater: clearly these actors were drawn to this project not by its incomprehensible script but because their agents believed proximity to Dylan might have some cachet. Lucky for them, those agents remain, if not masked, anonymous.
Prod co: Spitfire Pictures
Int'l sales: Initial Entertainment Group
US dist: Sony Pictures Classics
Prods: Nigel Sinclair, Jeff Rosen
Scr: Rene Fontaine, Sergy Petrov
DoP: Rogier Stoffers
Prod des: Bob Ziembicki
Ed: Pietro Scalia, Luis Alvarez
Mus: Bob Dylan
Main cast: Jeff Bridges, Penelope Cruz, Bob Dylan, John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Luke Wilson