Blake Rayne as Ryan Wade/Drexel Hemsley
Ray Liotta as Rev. Reece Wade
Ashley Judd as Louise Wade
Seth Green as Dino
Joe Pantoliano as Avi Hirshberg
Erin Cottrell as Jenny O’Brien
Waylon Payne as Tony Nash
Danny Woodburn as Damon
Brian Geraghty as William Hemsley
Amanda Crew as Helen Hemsley
Directed by Dustin Marcellino
For those who may have ever wondered, “What would have happened to Elvis’ identical twin brother if instead of being stillborn he had actually been given away to another family without ever knowing who he really was? What would have happened?” we now have an answer, and apparently it is that the two brothers would have lived almost exactly the same life, with one becoming famous as Elvis Presley, and the other as the world’s greatest Elvis Presley impersonator. And if that sounds incredibly stupid to, you then you have a pretty good idea what watching ?The Identical” is like.
Of course this isn’t the story of Elvis, no this is the story Dexter and Drexel Hemsley (both versions played by indie artist Blake Rayne), who is exactly like Elvis in every way except for talent and presence. However, by using an “original” story, producers (and music supervisors) Jerry and Yochanan Marcellino not only get to dodge potential lawsuits by the estate of the actual Elvis, they also get to dodge having to license classic Elvis songs (which everyone knows) and replace them with sound-alikes which no one has heard that they have written themselves. Did I mention that before entering the movie business, the Marcellinos were music producers who happen to own their own record label which happens to be putting out the soundtrack to the film they have made filled with songs they have written? I’m not saying the thing is a feature-length music video designed to help publicize their music work, I’m just saying that the director, Jerry’s son Dustin, his previous work is entirely in the music video field.
In a perfect world, none of this matters. Creating interlocking works that show off the different products and services you are capable of is part of the independent moviemaking world a lot of the time and doesn’t necessarily mean those different pieces will be devoid of artistic merit. Nor is it necessarily true that the director being the son of the producer means he doesn’t have the skill to make an entertaining and engaging motion picture.
But boy is that the case here. ?The Identical” is exactly what you would think the vanity project it sounds like would be: melodramatic, sentimental, hoary and over-done.
Going back to the movie: When the Hemsley twins are born in the depths of the Depression, their father quickly realizes that he can only afford to provide for one and–after a revealing tent revival session with a traveling preacher (Liotta)–Hemsley the Elder decides the right thing to do is give one of his children to the preacher and his wife (Judd, who can’t have children of her own) and tell his other son that his brother was stillborn. Jump forward a few years and while Hemsley 1 is busy becoming the pseudo-King, Hemsley 2 is busy leading almost exactly the same life–singing gospel music in the church choir by day, rockabilly at honky-tonks by night and eventually joining the army–only without the fame and fortune due to his adopted father’s decision that he should go into the ministry rather than focusing on that “devil music.”
On just a technical level, Marcellino is not a bad director and the cinematography by Karl Walter Lindenlaub (?Independence Day”) is frequently excellent, understated and appealing. He’s also surrounded the flat and listless Rayne with a number of talented supporting actors: Liotta and Judd, Seth Green as his best friend and bandmate, Waylon Payne as his unscrupulous manager and Joe Pantoliano as an old boss who just sort of sticks around for some reason. And unlike Rayne, none of them have any illusions about what sort of movie they’re in with each attempting to outdo the other in melodramatic scenery-chewing. (Though seeing as how Liotta’s introduction has him screaming Bible verses at the top of his lungs, it’s not much of a contest).
But there’s not much that can really help this turkey. The core idea is that Ryan/Dexter is fighting to get out of the shadow of the bigger men in his life–first his father and then his unknown brother–and forge his own identity. As it turns out, his own destiny is basically to be the exact same person as his brother, but that punch is just a little missing. It doesn’t help that much of the plot hinges on Blake being totally oblivious to how much in Drexel’s shadow he is or why until late in the film despite the fact that he looks and sounds just like Drexel and spends much of his post-seminary career becoming rich and famous as a Drexel impersonator. I’m going to repeat that for emphasis–Ryan becomes wealthy and famous enough to be recognized in his own right as a Drexel impersonator. Apparently living in the same universe where no one can tell Clark Kent is Superman, Ryan spends most of his life staring at the cover of Drexel Hemsely records, but when he discovers he truth it still comes as shock.
It’s that sort of dull surprise that makes ?The Identical” better fodder for accidental laughs than drama. It doesn’t help that Ryan is such a milquetoast due to his strict religious upbringing – he doesn’t swear, hardly gets mad and doesn’t drink or exhibit any other human vices or weakness. At the moment where he is at his lowest, after a producer offers to buy his best song so that Drexel can record it rather than Ryan, he almost takes a sip of whiskey. And unlike his co-stars, Rayne has no idea how to make this interesting or human; he plays every scene completely straight and sincere which may be what the script called for, but is very dull to watch.
Movies like this get made all the time, sometimes they even get released into theaters with a modicum of TV advertising, and they’re all about this good, which is to say neither bad nor good, just easily forgettable.