[Screen It]

(2003) (Bob Dylan, John Goodman) (PG-13)

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Drama: A promoter tries to stage a benefit concert for a troubled country but must deal with various obstacles and complications along the way.
In a non-specific time in an unnamed country, promoter Uncle Sweetheart (JOHN GOODMAN) is attempting to stage a benefit concert for that troubled country. Veteran TV producer Nina Veronica (JESSICA LANGE) is willing to help him, but doubts he'll succeed. While he strikes out with signing any other performers, he does manage to persuade iconic cult legend and recently released prisoner Jack Fate (BOB DYLAN) to headline the concert.

That raises the suspicions of cynical journalist Tom Friend (JEFF BRIDGES) who shows up on the scene with his religious girlfriend, Pagan Lace (PENELOPE CRUZ), only to run into interference provided by unabashed Fate supporter Bobby Cupid (LUKE WILSON).

As various characters -- including a mistress (ANGELA BASSETT), animal wrangler (VAL KILMER), soldier (GIOVANNI RIBISI) and political candidate Edmund (MICKEY ROURKE) -- enter and exit the scene, Sweetheart tries to pull off the benefit concert.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
If you've ever known or encountered the sort of overbearing person who's politely known as preachy and can't resist offering what they believe is profound advice, you'll know the exact feeling that the film "Masked and Anonymous" will likely elicit from mainstream viewers.

Most notable for featuring an impressive, A and B list of well-known actors and actresses along with singer Bob Dylan essentially just playing himself, the film is a boring, trite and misguided effort. All of which is surprising considering that it comes from the hands of Larry Charles, the man partially behind the success of TV's "Seinfeld" who makes his feature film debut here.

Those who've heaped praise on the film will likely argue that I missed the point of the symbolic film that requires multiple viewings to pick up its many hidden meanings and metaphors. They'll also likely add that it's purposefully been done that way to emulate Dylan's similarly multi-layered songs (which makes sense since the performer co-wrote the script).

That may be true, but I equate the film to watching a sign language interpreter I once saw trying to understand the performer at a live concert. The poor woman listened intently, but as much as she tried, she simply didn't stand a fighting chance of interpreting the legendary mumbled lyrics. Notwithstanding some of the songs that Dylan performs - which at least make those brief parts of the film entertaining - the film's "dialogue" might be easy to understand, but the point of the film isn't.

I'm assuming that the efforts of Charles, Dylan and company are supposed to be satirical, allegorical and any number of other adjectives that end in "al." After all, the underlying gist is a benefit performance for an unnamed country that's in some sort of dire straights, and the press kit says it's America in an undetermined time. That's supposed to add some poignancy, but most viewers won't be able to discern that fact and very little comes of it once one knows the "secret."

With characters dropping metaphorical lines such as that life is like a taxi in that even if you're going nowhere, the meter is still running, and that people try to kill time, but time ends up killing them, the effort is also supposed to be profound. Yet, the way in which the effort unfolds generates far more annoyance and boredom than anything remotely resembling interest or inspiration.

In fact, about the only intriguing thing about the film is trying to guess which name star will next appear in major, supporting and minor roles, and what in the world inspired them to sign up for this mess. The likes of John Goodman ("Monsters, Inc." "One Night at McCool's"), Jessica Lange ("Titus," "Cape Fear"), Jeff Bridges ("Seabiscuit," "The Contender") and Penelope Cruz ("Vanilla Sky," "All the Pretty Horses"), along with Luke Wilson (the "Legally Blonde" and "Charlie's Angels" films), Angela Bassett ("Sunshine State," "The Score"), Val Kilmer ("The Salton Sea," "At First Sight"), Giovanni Ribisi ("Basic," "Heaven"), Mickey Rourke ("The Pledge," "Get Carter") and more show up, some reportedly quoted as saying they just wanted to be in a film with Dylan.

Of course, they could have just visited the set if they wanted to see the legendary star, especially since many of their appearances end up being more distracting than beneficial to the effort (although, who knows, that could be the point).

Most notable is the fact that Dylan's track record in films such as "Renaldo and Clara" and "Hearts of Fire" isn't exactly what one would consider stellar. Then again, he's not asked to do much beyond playing himself, all of which he does adequately but without any notable flourishes.

If you're a big fan of Dylan's musical work or enjoy trying to decipher what's apparently been purposefully made indecipherable, you might find something to like in this film. Otherwise, the preachiness, faux profundity and overall empty and dull effort in front of and behind the camera will likely bore most viewers. "Masked and Anonymous" rates as a 2 out of 10.

Reviewed July 9, 2003 / Posted September 5, 2003

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