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Masked and Anonymous

Wizened Icon Keeps Rocking, Mumbling

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating


Masked and Anonymous

Growing no moss: Cheech Marin and Bob Dylan.

The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan is far from done. With Sixties vigor and carefree looseness, the legendary musician and poet has given us a late-career "Purple Rain" that turns out to be a great bad movie.

As down-and-out singer Jack Fate, who is released from prison in an unnamed war-torn country somewhere in South America to save the day with a benefit concert, Dylan wrote himself the role that's been his bread and butter for decades: the wizened icon who keeps silent or mumbles stoned quasi-proverbs. The film is full of tiny morsels of Dylan-Truth and clever jabs, pokes, and references to his long life and career. (Whiskey-soaked John Goodman: "People are mighty impressed with awards." Recent Academy Award™ Winner Bob Dylan: "Ain't that the truth.")

There is, in fact, a plot, but it mainly serves as slack clothesline strung up to support various eccentric bits by eager Dylan collaborators including Val Kilmer as animal nut, Ed Harris in blackface, Penelope Cruz, Giovanni Ribisi, Cheech Marin, and Angela Bassett. Jessica Lange, John Goodman, and Jeff Bridges get to ham it up as shady characters looking to profit from Jack Fate's comeback. Only Luke Wilson feels strangely stiff and out of place--but he does have Blind Lemon's guitar.

The music, it almost goes without saying, is superb.

Slyly mixing international covers of his greatest hits with deft live versions of new material and traditionals alike, Dylan extends his own achievements. The world of the film is permeated with Dylan's music, and while none of the songs are played all the way through, the soundtrack is a steady feast.

In yet another summer of superslick blockbusters, this shoddy, ramshackle movie, directed without panache by TV hack Larry Charles, comes shuffling along at just the right time, and I imagine it will play midnight screenings for years to come. Take that, "8 Mile."

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