*1/2 (out of 5)
September 5, 2014
Ray Liotta as REECE WADE
Ashley Judd as LOUISE WADE
Seth Green as DINO
Joe Pantoliano as AVI HIRSHBERG
Blake Rayne as RYAN WADE / DREXEL HEMSLEY
Erin Cottrell as JENNY O’BRIEN
Studio: Freestyle Releasing
Directed by: Dustin Marcellino
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
It is not often that I struggle painfully with trying to explain the point of a movie. For the most part, movies are pretty simple things. Even the wildly complex ones like “Citizen Kane” or “Chinatown” can be distilled to a sentence or two to give the general gist of the story.
As someone who does a lot of radio, which requires me to cram the explanation of a film into just a few words before getting a chance to actually review it, I am endlessly frustrated with movies like “The Identical.” Aside from the mantra I adopted this week of “Don’t blame me for the terrible choice of movies this weekend,” I was at a loss for how to get succinctly to the point of “The Identical.”
I’ll give it a shot here…
“The Identical” tells the story of a twin who was given up for adoption by his family because they couldn’t manage to raise two kids during the depression. Ryan Wade (Blake Rayne) grows up not knowing that he is actually the twin brother of Drexel Hemsley (Blake Rayne again), even though he looks exactly like him and exhibits the same amazing musical talent… also from the south and also hanging around a lot of the places that Elvis, er Drexel, would have hung out. Ryan grows up to be a Drexel Hemsley impersonator – the best in the business, of course, since he is genetically the same guy.
Seriously, it’s not about Elvis, even though it totally is about Elvis (who did, indeed, have a twin brother who was stillborn). This makes the movie a weird piece of speculative fiction that is complicated by the fact that Drexel Hemsley’s life perfectly mirrors Elvis’s, yet his manager in one scene makes a point to actually mention Elvis so the audience knows that this is really not a story about Elvis… except it is.
It’s also a faith-based film, in which Ryan struggles with the allures of rock-and-roll (hilariously called “honkeytonk” by his reverend father, played by Ray Liotta) instead of becoming the preacher as his family intended. However, even with all the faith injected into this film like a wino mainlining heroin, there’s no real message, no real conclusion, and no real resolution for anyone or anything in this film.
“The Identical” is an ambitious film, simply for all the ground that it tries to cover. It’s clearly made by people who love Elvis and want to write the equivalent of Christian slash fiction about his life. By framing this film outside of Elvis’s actual life, there’s a chance to slather on some love for rock and roll without the sex and drugs that normally go hand-in-hand with it.
While the production value of “The Identical” is up to snuff, the acting really isn’t. Even the veteran actors like Liotta, Joe Pantoliano, Ashley Judd and Seth Green can’t chew through the achingly bad dialogue they’re given. Add to this the fact that half the film features unnecessary narration by a woman that could easily have been Ryan’s biological mother, adoptive mother or eventual wife. (I think it ends up being his wife, but that’s just a hunch I had by the end of the film.)
“The Identical” tries to be the rough-road musician biopic journey we saw with “Ray” and “Walk the Line,” except for the fact that Ryan only has success emulated his brother. He inexplicably fills theaters with screaming young girls in the late 60s and early 70s (even though the real Elvis was filling the front row with screaming women in their 30s by that time). And he’s a big hit at state fairs. Go figure.
The film does lead one on an emotional roller coasters. It starts as preachy and boring with the flat look of a made-for-TV movie. Then it becomes laughable with incomprehensible scenes of coincidence and Ryan Wade’s depression beard. Then it becomes a cinematic Trail of Tears, dragging the story far beyond where it should have ended and grinding to a halt with no real finale or climax.