Film Review by Kam Williams
What if Elvis Presley’s stillborn twin had survived his mother’s pregnancy rather than passed away during delivery back in January of 1935? That is the alternate reality contemplated by The Identical, a faith-based musical marking the underwhelming directorial debut of Dustin Marcellino.
Unfortunately, Dustin tapped an Elvis impersonator to star in his revisionist version of events, a dubious decision that comes back to bite him whenever Blake Rayne isn’t singing and shaking his hips onstage. The first-time actor plays both Ryan Hemsley and his identical sibling, Drexel (Elvis), in this fictionalized account of the life of the King of Rock and Roll.
The speculative endeavor’s point of departure is Decatur, Georgia during the Depression, which is where we find poverty-stricken sharecroppers Helen (Amanda Crew) and William Hemsley (Brian Geraghty) fretting about how they’re going to provide for their twin newborns. The answer to their prayers arrives soon thereafter, at a revival meeting pitched under a big tent by Reverend Reece Wade (Ray Liotta), a Pentecostal preacher with a soulful of hope and a barren wife (Ashley Judd).
The Wades’ desire to start a family conveniently dovetails with the Hemsleys’ having one more baby than they can reasonably afford. So, with God as their witness, Reece and Louise agree to adopt Ryan before surreptitiously slipping out of town and back to Tennessee. Meanwhile, Helen and William announce the missing boy’s death to friends and relatives, and stage a faux funeral, complete with an empty casket.
Reece proceeds to raise Ryan in the church with a career in ministry in mind although, given his great vocal chords, the kid proves more comfortable in the choir than the pulpit. He finally rebels in his teens entirely by enlisting in the military, leaving not only his domineering dad but a budding sweetheart (Erin Cottrell) behind. By contrast, Drexel, who was also blessed with powerful pipes, is allowed by the Hemsleys to pursue his passion, and naturally blossoms into the nation’s next singing sensation.
Will the twins ever learn of each other’s existence? If so, will they be able to forgive their folks for having separated them at birth? And will Ryan ever enjoy an opportunity to take his own shot at fame and fortune?
These are the probing questions posed by a production so flawed in terms of plot, dialogue and performances that it ends up unintentionally funny at practically every juncture. Regrettably, The Identical flunks the basic plausibility test, whether in terms of its farcical reimagining of race relations in the Jim Crow South or its equally-silly staging of sophomoric car chases straight out of The Dukes of Hazzard.
To paraphrase a Presley classic: Wise men say, only fools rush in to see a one-trick pony revolving around an annoying Elvis look-a-like.
Fair (1 star)
Rated PG for smoking and mature themes
Running time: 107 minutes
Distributor: Freestyle Releasing