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Early on in “Masked and Anonymous,” a minor character makes an observation that the audience can agree with. “Something is starting to smell here,” he says. “I’m beginning to choke on the fumes.” By this time Bob Dylan devotees who revere the singer’s every enigmatic lyric as the equivalent of Holy Writ may still be willing to give the movie the benefit of the doubt, but anyone else will already recognize it as self-indulgent twaddle; and it only gets worse.

The story–or situation, to be more accurate–is apparently set in a southwestern United States that has become a separate country and is in the midst of a rebellion. A sleazy promoter (John Goodman) is in hock to some threatening loan sharks, and he and his partner (Jessica Lange) decide to put on a televised “benefit” concert. Since they’re unable to persuade any current name talent to participate, they spring from the pokey Jack Fate (Dylan), an over-the-hill but “legendary” star who turns out to be the son of the dying generalissimo-president (replaced in his father’s affection–and inheritance, it would seem–by a fascist played by Mickey Rourke). But all the political stuff is but foggy back story. At the center are the machinations preparatory to the concert, somehow involving a loud-mouthed, hostile reporter (Jeff Bridges), an idealistic guitarist (Luke Wilson) and hordes of other sketchy characters, played cameo-style by such slumming stars as Christian Slater, Penelope Cruz, Angela Bassett, Bruce Dern, Val Kilmer, Cheech Martin and Fred Ward. The result is like “Around the Block in 102 Awful Minutes.”

Throughout all the pretentious but impenetrable babble, the cadaverous Dylan sleep-walks through the part of Fate, supposedly some sort of cowboy messiah, reciting his lines in a dreary monotone that would put one to sleep if he were capable of blurting out more than a few words at a time. He’s more animated in the musical “rehearsal” interludes, though even there he preens with such overweening vanity that one might prefer clicking off the projector bulb and just listening in the dark. For the other cast members, this will not be a distinguished addition to their resumes. Most of them have parts so small as to be negligible, but the unfortunate Goodman and Bridges have substantial roles, and respond to Dylan’s comatose mien by overplaying wildly. (At least one can understand the character of the self-interested promoter; the motives behind the vicious, pointless questions of Bridges’ newsman are completely opaque.) After a debacle like this, all of them might want to take the title to heart and go incognito for a while, but they really needn’t worry; once word gets around, very few people are likely ever to witness their humiliation.

“Masked and Anonymous” is directed–if that’s the appropriate word–by Larry Charles, a TV veteran who’s making his feature debut here. He’s apparently as much in thrall to Dylan as all the other participants in this misguided vanity project, constantly situating the singer at the center of things as though he were an object of veneration. Perhaps he’ll get another opportunity in the future to show his talent. Technically this is a bare-bones effort, looking as though it were shot in a succession of back alleys, empty warehouses and office buildings awaiting demolition.

Near the eagerly-awaited conclusion of “Masked and Anonymous,” Dylan finally offers an observation that will be of use to viewers. “I gave up trying to figure out things a long time ago,” he says. You’d be wise to do likewise if you find yourself trapped in this mess of meaningless, self-important blather.


As if Cuba Gooding, Jr. hadn’t debased himself sufficiently in such unhappy mistakes as the rabid “Rat Race” and the tepid “Snow Dogs,” he now outdoes himself with a farce that’s extraordinarily offensive as well as stupid. “Boat Trip” is about a straight guy–on the rebound after being dumped by his girlfriend Felicia (Vivica A. Fox), whom he’d vomited on during on hot-air balloon ride–who mistakenly goes on a cruise designed for gays. Initially distressed at the turn of events, he changes his mind when he meets Gabriella (Roselyn Sanchez), an entrancing crew member who’s been hurt so often that she appreciates chumming around with a man she assumes couldn’t possibly be interested in her. To romance her, therefore, he has to pretend to be homosexual, and get his chubby buddy (SNL’s Horatio Sanz) to go along with the imposture. You can just imagine all the wacky shenanigans that result, especially when his erstwhile fiancée shows up to win him back. You’d be well advised, at least, to leave them all to the imagination, because actually experiencing them is pretty horrible. They involve not only the misrepresentations between the fellow and his would-be soul-mate, but a team of Scandinavian “tanning” contestants who make their way onto the ship along with a grotesque old “coach” (Lin Shaye, from several Farrelly Brothers movies) and a determined old queen who takes an interest in our hero’s rotund pal–a role played by none other than former James Bond Roger Moore.

“Boat Trip” is the sort of astronomically awful farce that leaves no leering or vulgar gag unused and no stereotype unexplored in its search for cheap laughs. But one must admit that it’s even worse when it tries to be sensitive, and abandons even the slightest glimmer of logic in the attempt. Consider a scene in which, within the span of about thirty seconds, the picture’s lovable drag queen Hector (Maurice Godin)–an obligatory character–first claims only recently to have come out, but then follows up with a lachrymose story about how his father hadn’t spoken to him for twenty years because he so disliked gays. Of course, it’s hardly fair to expect this kind of farce to respect even the flimsiest rules of plausibility, but still….

Why sentient actors would allow themselves to be trapped in such stuff is incomprehensible–certainly an empty resumé would be preferable to one to one that listed a title like this. But here they are nonetheless. Gooding mugs, smirks and engages in lots of unfunny slapstick; one feels nothing but pained embarrassment for him. Moore keeps the proverbial stuff upper lip while he delivers his string of infamous lines, and Sanchez slinks about while managing to make most of her dialogue at least intelligible (though she proves incapable of the word “deceitful”). Fox’s shrew routine, though, is old hat indeed. As for Sanz, he’ll have to learn that the kind of brutally broad shtick that works on the small screen needs severe toning down on the large one. Will Ferrell shows up for a cameo as a travel agent, presumably as favor to his SNL associate, and proves as creepy as ever in just a minute or so of footage. It only remains to note that Mort Nathan’s direction is cruelly labored, and that the picture has an unpleasantly garish look.

In the final analysis, you’d have to go back to “Gilligan’s Island” to find an equally bad comedic shipwreck. Cancel your reservation immediately, even if the ticket is non-refundable.