IMAGINE YOU’RE A filmmaker, and you’ve assembled a dream cast of A-list stars, crack character actors, and your usual stock company of famous faces. Your production-design team has gifted you with a set that’s evocative of a 1950s Southwestern desert landscape, complete with Monument Valley vistas and Route 66 iconography. The costume designer has absolutely nailed the period couture, from cowpoke denim-on-denim to aristocratic golf duds to bewitching fitted dresses. The sunbaked color palette suggests a faded postcard from family vacations past. A longtime friend and fellow idiosyncratic writer-director has helped you co-concoct a conceptual plot, one involving a Playhouse 90-style TV show presenting a three-act stage show, involving various folks thrown together by circumstance. It’s a perfect fit for your own brand of meticulous, go-symmetrical-or-go-home visual sense. Also there is a UFO.

And then, with everything ready to operate in stylistic sync, you ask yourself: OK, so how will I use all of these elements to express something? What do I have to say — about the nation at a historical turning point, about the staring contest between strict conformity and a burgeoning counterculture, about the anxieties of the Atomic Age bumping up against a brave new consumerist frontier? You wait for the answer. And wait. And wait.…

An all-star road trip to Nowheresville USA, Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City is unmistakably the work of one of the few modern directors who can genuinely be called an auteur: You know his camera movements, his characters, his compositions crammed with aesthetic bric-a-brac the second you see them. It’s also a jumble of ideas colliding into one another like particles in an accelerator, with none of them ever taking hold or turning into something resembling a cohesive narrative. There’s enough gorgeous Andersonaphernalia to get lost in onscreen that you might not mind the loose, ambling feel of his ensemble comedy, and be content to just bask in the wild, wild Wes of it all. Eventually, though, you’ll find yourself getting as restless as the trapped tourists and reluctant visitors stuck in the titular burg, scouring the horizon for a destination — any destination — and finding zilch.

Actually, let’s correct ourselves: This is less a comedy and more of a “comedy,” in scare quotes. As with a lot of Anderson’s past work, there’s a dry comic rhythm to the proceedings that’s tinged with melancholy, though the existential funk that hovers over Asteroid City is a heavier-than-usual fog. This tiny way station of old-fashioned Americana consists of a single-pump gas station, a 10-room motel (technically nine rooms and a tent; one cabana recently burned down), a dozen-seated diner, and a local population of 87. A two-lane highway runs through it. The main attraction is a crater where, millions of years ago, a meteorite touched down. It’s about to host a Junior Stargazers conference, where the country’s best and brightest underage scientists, dubbed the “Brainiacs,” will get a chance to win a prize.

Asteroid City is a little less than a blip on a AAA road map, in other words. It’s also not real, in both the outside-the-frame sense and within-the-movie sense. It’s the location of a play written by noted Southern playwright and bon vivant Conrad Earp, played by Edward Norton as an amalgamation of Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams, William Inge, and Colonel Sanders.