Greil Marcus and other fetishists will likely spend years pondering the deep meaning of a movie in which Dylan once more offers a mordant variation on his own myth. It will be a waste of time. Masked and Anonymous is the ultimate put-on, an A-list circle jerk of famous faces (Jeff Bridges, Jessica Lange, Ed Harris, Christian Slater, Luke Wilson, Val Kilmer, John Goodman and many more) paying homage to a man who seems not to know they're there. You can't take your eyes off it, but only because you can't believe anyone would agree to bankroll this or appear in it.
The actors, especially Luke Wilson as a confidant-cum-hanger-on, attempt half-hearted Dylan impressions to accommodate the poetic nonsense they're asked to gargle. (The screenplay, by Dylan and director Larry Charles, is coyly credited to Sergei Petrov and Rene Fontaine.) "Looks like a leech, a bleeder, some kind of two-faced monster, spy. Lee, he probably would have had him shot. Sherman woulda hung him," Wilson says of the washed-out reporter played by Bridges, who seems fresh off the Big Lebowski set. It's as if someone took every Dylan song, rearranged the words and called "Action."
Set in some inexplicable netherworld -- Los Angeles if it were dropped into Argentina -- the film opens as though it's had thirty minutes lopped off at the beginning. Goodman's sleazy concert promoter is in debt to two goons for some money, so he springs Dylan from a basement prison to play a benefit concert he fancies as a cross between Woodstock, Altamont, Live Aid and Elvis' '68 comeback special. It's more like Americathon directed by Walker-era Alex Cox.
Charles, the Seinfeld writer and Curb Your Enthusiasm director, apparently directed this movie without actually visiting the set; he's made a film that's really about nothing -- it's indulgent, amateurish, dull and pretentious. But he can't be the only one to blame here. Dylan is nothing if not self-indulgent, having so often used the very fame he claims to hate to get away with selling shit as gold. He's never been a good judge of his own material, releasing mediocre stuff while stockpiling the invaluable work that turns up only years later. You can't trust the Jokerman.