As a showcase for a former Elvis impersonator making his acting debut and a couple of songwriter-producers flexing their roots-rock chops, The Identical gets the job done adequately enough. This passably palatable film never hits any real high notes, however, and although its faith-based perspective and a Nashville Film Festival award may hint at a latent Bible Belt audience, it’s unlikely to achieve much reach elsewhere.
By pilfering the Presley biography, the film attempts to tease out a “what if” scenario about twins separated shortly after birth (Elvis’ identical brother was actually stillborn), but does it so prosaically that the potentially alluring premise hardly seems to matter. Initially set during the depths of the Depression a year after Presley was born in 1935, the alternate narrative concerns new parents William (Brian Geraghty) and Helen (Amanda Crew) Hemsley, an impoverished Alabama couple financially unprepared for the arrival of twin baby boys.
At a revival meeting, William hears evangelist preacher Reece Wade (Ray Liotta) lament his wife’s inability to bear children. Insisting it’s God’s will, William convinces Helen that they should offer one of the boys to Wade and his wife, Louise (Ashley Judd), for adoption, in the hopes he’ll have a better life than they can offer. William’s only condition is that the Wades must keep the boy’s birth family a secret until after his parents’ deaths.
Named Ryan by Reece and Louise, he grows up in Tennessee immersed in church life and struggling to meet the unrealistic expectations of his demanding father. Whereas Wade wants his son to enter the ministry, Ryan’s (Blake Rayne) passion is for music, particularly the newly emerging rhythm and blues scene he sneaks off to experience in segregated black-only roadhouse bars. While Ryan tries out his modest talents with singing and songwriting, his twin brother, Drexel (also played by Rayne), has become a wildly famous rocker. Forced to endure endless comparisons to his unknown twin, Ryan eventually accepts a gig touring as a Drexel imitation performer, promoted as “The Identical” for his uncanny resemblance to the star.
Taking his cue from Howard Klausner’s shamelessly sentimental script, debuting feature director Dustin Marcellino puts his music-video skills to good use during performance scenes, but otherwise ensures that the pedestrian filmmaking doesn’t distract from the overly sincere performances. In his favor, Rayne (aka Ryan Pelton) as the aspiring professional musician competently works his way through a variety of period musical styles popularized by Presley, including rockabilly, rhythm and blues, country swing and pop, but can’t shake the Elvis affectation, sounding all the less impressive as a result.
As the devoted minister aggrieved by his rebellious son, Liotta devotes the majority of his performance to either preaching to his congregation or to Ryan with practically one-note consistency. Women get less credit in the film than they deserve, with Judd and Erin Cottrell as Ryan’s wife, Jenny, sidelined to underwhelming supporting roles.
Overstuffed with Rayne’s musical performances, the film serves as an opportunity for Marcellino’s father (and producer) Yochanan Marcellino to team up with his own father, Jerry, a musical producer and songwriter, to craft a series of catchy rock tunes in a variety of styles, but almost all are instantly forgettable imitations of much better artists. As a family unit, at least they’re all operating at the same level of mediocrity, safely maintaining the integrity of father-son dynamics.
Production companies: City of Peace Films, Identical Production Company
Cast: Blake Rayne, Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, Erin Cottrell, Amanda Crew, Brian Geraghty, Seth Green, Joe Pantoliano
Director: Dustin Marcellino
Screenwriter: Howard Klausner
Producers: Mark G. Mathis, Yochanan Marcellino, Matthew Dean Russell, Clarke Gallivan, Coke Sams, Howard Klausner, Joe McDougall, Clio Tegel
Executive producers: Michael Edious Johnson, Yochanan Marcellino, Ray Liotta
Director of photography: Karl Walter Lindenlaub
Production designer: Keith Brian Burns
Costume designer: Karyn Wagner
Editor: Rick Shaine
Music: Jerry Marcellino, Yochanan Marcellino, Christopher Carmichael, Klaus Badelt
Rated PG, 106 minutes