Masked and Anonymous

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 March, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 March, 2004, 12:00am

Masked and Anonymous

Starring: Bob Dylan, Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Jessica Lange

Director: Larry Charles

The film: Bob Dylan has always polarised audiences; people either love him or loathe him. So, your reaction to this vanity project for one of the music world's more enigmatic characters will be influenced by your opinion of the man himself.

Masked and Anonymous is a lot like a Dylan song: you can take it as meaning something deep, or nothing at all. And like a Dylan song, it is crammed full of strange characters, wordplay and pop-culture references.

Dylan stars as frazzled rock legend, Jack Fate, who, on release from prison, is lured into playing a benefit concert to be beamed across the strife-torn - and unnamed - nation in which the action is set. You could say it is Dylan playing Dylan. And he mumbles his way through proceedings in his own inimitable, tumble-down style.

The gig is being orchestrated by a dodgy promoter called Uncle Sweetheart (John Goodman), with the aid of a TV producer (Jessica Lange) in an equally sketchy role. Around these two we have an assortment of oddballs (and over-the-top performances), including Jeff Bridges as a journalist, Penelope Cruz as his loopy girlfriend and Luke Wilson as, well, I'm not really sure what his character is all about.

The story follows the efforts to get Fate to play his part in the concert, and takes us cross country with him as he travels towards the show. The music is superb, with Dylan (left with Goodman and Wilson) playing a few of his own songs, accompanied by his current touring band, and the sound- track features Dylan covers by a variety of groups.

This is a strange affair, and by the time the credits roll you're not sure what it was all about. Larry Charles, who wrote for Seinfeld and directed the superb spin-off Curb Your Enthusiasm, seems to have just let everyone get on with trying to out-ham each other, and didn't make much of an effort to create a discernible plot. The result is a disjointed narrative, but there's enjoyment in the cameos and the strange dialogue, and joy in watching Dylan mooch around like only he can.

The extras: Disappointing. Deleted scenes, commentary from the director, and a 'making of' documentary are all you get. Considering the cast involved, you'd think the options would have been unlimited.

The verdict: A delight for Dylan fans, but the rest will be left scratching their heads.