Elvis-tinged parable of twins is bland exercise in make-believe
Starring Blake Rayne, Ray Liotta & Ashley Judd
Directed by Dustin Marcellino
The movie or its marketing materials don’t say it, so I will: The Identical is the strangest Elvis movie not about Elvis you’ll likely ever see.
It’s about a young man who grows up in the South, unaware that he has a twin brother who’ll grow up to become a hip-shakin’ singing sensation—just like Elvis. The young man shares his twin’s musical talent, his Elvis-y stage moves, his Elvis-y looks, and he even gets hired as an impersonator, becoming famous as the best Elvis-y copycat in the business.
But The Identical only makes one fleeting reference to Elvis. Instead, it pretends its characters exist independently, in a bubble, but parallel to real events and real people, including Elvis. It all makes for a curious, weirdly weightless little exercise in make-believe—especially since the movie make-believes it’s not about Elvis. (The movie doesn’t have any rights to actual Elvis music, or anything else “Elvis”—because those things cost a lot of money.)
Elvis actually had a twin brother who did not survive childbirth. What might have happened, though, had Presley’s twin lived? Perhaps something like this, The Identical suggests.
A poor couple in Depression-wracked Alabama gives birth to twin boys, but can’t afford to raise them both. So they give away one to a traveling evangelist (Ray Liotta) and his wife (Ashley Judd), swearing them to lifelong secrecy. Then they stage a mock funeral, burying an empty shoebox behind their ramshackle house, so the neighbors won’t question why the infant is no longer around.
The years pass. Newcomer Blake Rayne (a former Elvis impersonator—for real!), making his acting debut, plays both the preacher’s kid, Ryan Wade, as well as the pop-rock sensation Drexel Hemsley, although Drexel has only a couple of scenes and one mumbled line of dialog. This is the story of the “other” brother, who’s tugged between the rock ’n’ roll DNA somehow in his genes and the wishes of his father to pursue a more righteous path.
The Identical is a modest little movie, made on a shoestring, no-frills budget of $3 million. Sometimes it feels just one rib poke away from a Saturday Night Live skit, or the kind of outright parody John C. Reilly did with Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, his faux-Johnny Cash send-up. But it plays it straight—and narrow, constantly hammering its faith-and-values themes of reconciliation, forgiveness and discovering “who [God] made us to be,” and over-amping every emotional tone to eleven.
Seth Green and Joe Pantoliano provide hijinks that feel lifted from old Happy Days reruns. Judd spouts homilies like “Slap the dog and spit on the fire.” And Liotta (also one of the executive producers), best known for playing a mobster in Goodfellas, digs in to his role as a man of the cloth like it was made out of ham and cheese.
Despite some scenes with howlingly high levels of hoke, some viewers will nonetheless likely find something to love about this bland, edge-less, Elvis-tinged parable, which has nothing to offend, shock or rub even the most sensitive of sensibilities the wrong way—like a lot of Elvis’ music, or his own movies. Come to think of it, Presley may have “left the building” long ago, but his spirit is still around, even in a strange little movie that pretends it’s not.
—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine