Dumb and dumberer

Masked and Anonymous gets lost in translation

Jack Fate (Bob Dylan) is a once-great musician who has hit bottom in a rural jail and been plucked from obscurity by the organizers of a Live Aid-style benefit concert. Like a cross between Lee Marvin and Buddha, Fate is stone cold and expressionless. Prone to cryptic silences and even more cryptic pronouncements, his dialogue (penned by Dylan) often sounds like a badly translated fortune cookie message.

Masked and Anonymous meshes the mesmeric persona of the rock star with that of the silent, stoic gunslinger, colliding two American myths while crossbreeding the Western and the rock musical.

The result is an unholy mess — a frantic, swirling, hysterically over-plotted post-apocalyptic social parable that dances around the energy-sucking black hole of Dylan’s nearly comatose hero.

The benefit concert is being staged by the fascistic government of a postwar society. El Presidente is a portly Latino whose image hangs Big Brother-style on city streets and hotel room walls, and his brutal law is enforced by a phalanx of Asian and black thugs. The benefit concert is staged to help increase the government’s popularity. Unable to attract real stars, vulgar concert promoter Uncle Sweetheart (John Goodman) and a task-mistress TV producer (Jessica Lange) try to convince the skeptical government that has-been Fate can draw a crowd. In the meantime, a vile reporter (Jeff Bridges) is after a story on the concert, and the current president lies in his deathbed waiting to be replaced by his son, Eduardo (Mickey Rourke).

Dressed in a mariachi suit, with his trusty guitar slung over his shoulder, Fate makes his way to the concert site, encountering a staggering number of cameos along the way — Val Kilmer, Cheech Marin, Bruce Dern, Fred Ward, Angela Bassett, Chris Penn, Christian Slater and Ed Harris in blackface — all of whom deliver more cryptic gobbledygook. Everyone’s got an opinion in Masked and Anonymous, and it’s all incoherent. From the jailer (“keeping people from feeling free is big business”) to the hotel front desk clerk (“I do not belong to any political parties, sir. I guess you could call me a feminist.”), all characters speak the same infuriatingly grandiose and indecipherable language. Every line of dialogue is spoken with great emphasis as if there were copious metaphors and hidden messages contained within.

Despite its post-fiftysomething cast, Masked and Anonymous’s brand of “protest” is pure MTV — it assumes that just showing two actors dressed as Ghandi and the Pope floating around in the background amounts to some kind of “critique.” In an age full of reasons to protest, it is galling that this film has instead concocted a very expensive, celebrity-studded, indecipherable complaint. Bloated by self-regard, Masked and Anonymous is the essence of the self-aggrandizing benefit concerts it weakly parodies.

The cult of Dylan seems to have bewitched a number of big-name actors to share some screen time with the singer. Ironically enough, Dylan rewards their faith by making every performance look absurd and overplayed with his concrete face as a response. Goodman, playing his usual buffoonish country-boy-with-a-shoeshine, is the only real distraction from the madness, if only because his brand of broad, wiseacre comedy seems the proper response to this self-important, absurdist joke of a film.