Masked and Anonymous

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One of the more glorious trainwrecks of Sundance 2003 was “Masked and Anonymous,” a nearly incomprehensible vanity piece starring Bob Dylan and about a million other celebrities who apparently really, really wanted to be in a film with Bob Dylan, even if the film was useless.

Look at this roster, in alphabetical order: Angela Bassett, Jeff Bridges, Penelope Cruz, Bruce Dern, John Goodman, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer, Jessica Lange, Cheech Marin, Giovanni Ribisi, Mickey Rourke, Luke Wilson. Some only make brief appearances to ramble for a while about something, with Dylan forced to stand there squintily and sort of listen. Most are only barely suppressing their glee at appearing with Dylan.

Dylan himself says little; mostly he observes. When he does talk, it’s often to say something absurd, like when someone asks him, “Where you headed?,” and he replies, “That way.” There’s a lot of enigmatic stuff like that here. You pile up enough enigmatic stuff, you’re going to have one big, senseless movie.

The story is of Dylan’s character, Jack Fate, a fading but formerly legendary folk singer who is recruited to perform a benefit concert. The concert has to do with a revolution that is taking place in what seems like the United States but which might also be a South American country.

There is very little additional plot to discuss, which probably seems strange, considering how many characters there are. John Goodman displays a certain charming energy as Uncle Sweetheart, the big, heavy-drinking man who convinces Jack to perform. Everyone else is just sort of stands around talking, saying almost nothing.

The director is Larry Charles, who directed many episodes of “Seinfeld,” which at least KNEW it was about nothing. He and Dylan allegedly wrote the film themselves, under the names Rene Fontaine and Sergei Petrov. Do the pseudonyms indicate they were aware of how boring and senseless the whole thing would turn out to be? Or is it all an elaborate joke?

It’s the sort of nonsense that’s intriguing for about 15 minutes, simply because its incoherence approaches a surreal level. But then the novelty wears off, and it settles into being the worst thing a movie can be: boring.

D- (1 hr., 53 min.; PG-13, some profanity and a little violence.)

In 2012, I reconsidered this movie for my "Re-Views" column at Film.com.

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