Movie Review: Masked and Anonymous
By Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
Bob Dylan plays an outlaw folk-rock singer in "Masked and Anonymous," and he's the least masked and anonymous character in any recent movie. Jack Fate looks like Dylan, sings Dylan's songs in Dylan's voice, and speaks in Dylan's hip-oracular hokey-Okie, disturbin'-urban aphorisms. (Example: "Sometimes it's not enough to know the meanings of things. Sometimes you have to know what things don't mean as well.")
Fate is Dylan, but it's no simple twist. The movie's rocker hero is our "Desolation Row" balladeer's fictionalized version of himself, plopped down into a Philip K. Dickian alternate universe in which the United States has morphed into a Shakespearean banana republic in the throes of repression and revolution. In the midst of chaos, Fate has been sprung from jail to headline a benefit concert that is the brainchild of ultimate sleazy promoter Uncle Sweetheart (John Goodman) and his skeptical partner, Nina Veronica (Jessica Lange). As a wild all-star cast of characters swirls around them including Jeff Bridges as cynical reporter Tom Friend, Penelope Cruz as sultry Pagan Lace, and Luke Wilson as earnest Fate follower Bobby Cupid Dylan settles down to making a little music with some friends, in between social convulsions and psychological traumas.
It's a shame there isn't more music, though we do hear a half-dozen Dylan tunes (plus "Dixie") performed by Fate and company with a lazy-looking, consummate skill that makes you yearn for more. Dylan has had such a erratic movie career classics like "Don't Look Back" and "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" mixed with misfires like "Renaldo and Clara" and "Hearts of Fire" that his name is no cinema seal of quality, even if he is one of the era's essential pop-cultural forces.
"Masked" is erratic and volatile, too, from scene to scene, moment to moment. The script is chaotic, but the top-flight actors play their hearts out. Dylan supposedly co-wrote the script (as "Sergei Petrov") with "Masked" director and "Seinfeld" writer-producer Larry Charles ("Rene Fontaine"). But oddly, what goes most wrong is their attempt to make this into a "real movie," with plot resolutions, detailed backgrounds and some kind of three-act arc.
"Masked" would have been much better if the makers had included more music, shot their actors with Ingmar Bergman close-up minimalism and made something looser, simpler and wilder if Dylan had approached it like a new album which he just happened to turn into a movie.
As it is, "Masked and Anonymous" is something of an alienator though you know it will last, simply because of the Dylan performances and its sheer intransigent strangeness. But "Masked" needs less masks, more nakedness. As Dylan once said (in "Blonde on Blonde"): "To live outside the law, you must be honest."
"Masked and Anonymous"
Directed by Larry Charles; written by Rene Fontaine (Charles), Sergei Petrov (Bob Dylan); photographed by Rogier Stoffers; edited by Luis Alvarez, Pietro Scalia; production designed by Bob Ziembicki; music and songs by Dylan; produced by Nigel Sinclair, Jeff Rosen. A Sony Pictures Classics release; opens Friday, Aug. 15. Running time: 1:53. MPAA rating: PG-13.
Jack Fate Bob Dylan
Tom Friend Jeff Bridges
Pagan Lace Penelope Cruz
Uncle Sweetheart John Goodman
Nina Veronica Jessica Lange
Bobby Cupid Luke Wilson
Mistress Angela Bassett
Oscar Vogel Ed Harris
Prospero Cheech Marin
President Richard Sarafian