Blu-ray Review: The Identical

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A spectacularly ill-conceived phony “biopic,” The Identical is one of the strangest piece of Christian-based filmmaking ever unleashed in cinemas. There’s a reason that, despite the presence of well-known actors including Seth Green, Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, and Joe Pantoliano, the film fell absolutely flat on its face when granted a wide theatrical release last September: it insults its audience’s intelligence on nearly every level. The premise offers a suggested outcome to the question “what if Elvis Presley’s stillborn identical twin brother had lived, but was raised by a different set of parents?” Former NFL coach Tony Dungy is quoted on the Blu-ray cover (the film is out on Blu-ray and DVD January 13) as saying, “I encourage everyone to see this film.” But why? As a textbook example of how even the best of intentions can go horribly wrong when the filmmakers don’t understand what story they’re trying to tell?

Identical 1 (380x253).jpgIn The Identical, twin brothers Drexel and Dexter are born to dirt poor, Depression-era parents William (Brian Geraghty) and Helen Hemsley (Amanda Crew). Preacher Reece Wade (Liotta) and his wife Louise (Ashley) can’t have children. So the Hemsley’s give up Dexter to the Wades, publically claiming that the child died the day after he was born. The Hemsley’s son Drexel grows up to become an Elvis-esque rock and roll idol nicknamed “The Dream.” Dexter (Blake Rayne), without being told of his true parentage, is rechristened Ryan and the Wades raise him to follow in adoptive father Reece’s preaching footsteps. But Ryan also has music in his heart and can’t stay away from honky tonks that feature R&B music. Against his parents’ wishes, he takes his gal Jenny’s (Erin Cottrell) advice and becomes a professional Drexel Hemsley impersonator (and is quickly dubbed “The Identical”).

Maybe there was an intriguing story concerning “nature versus nurture” at the heart of this idea, but the dunderheaded screenplay by Howard Klausner can’t uncover it (or possibly it was there, but was mangled by director Dustin Marcellino). Ryan, once he discovers the music of Drexel Hemsley, never questions how there could be another person who looks and sounds exactly the same as him (both roles are handled by real-life Elvis impersonator Rayne). He never once suspects that he was adopted. And when Drexel becomes aware of “The Identical,” he also apparently never ponders the possibility that he has an unknown sibling (even though he knows he had a brother). Of course, we know very little of Drexel since his meteoric rise to fame is not part of the movie. Also, Elvis Presley exists in this film’s universe (he’s mentioned by name), making Drexel sort of an “identical” himself. Why anyone would even care about an Elvis knock-off when they can listen to the real innovator himself is a question the film never attempts to answer.

Identical 3 (380x253).jpgMaking all of this confusion worse is the fact that the original songs sung by Drexel and Ryan, written specifically for the movie, are beyond God awful. Songs like “Sunrise Surfin’” never remotely evoke the era in which they were supposed to have been written. They are produced and performed closer to the style of Vegas-era Presley, begging the question of how these generic tunes could’ve possibly set 1950’s youth on fire. The situation becomes downright laughable when Ryan, desperate to establish himself as more than “The Identical,” starts pitching his own original song “City Lights”—which happens to be one of the worst of the bunch, despite it eventually becoming a huge hit.

Amidst all the nonsense is a recurring religious theme that mixes general preachiness about God’s plan for everyone with incomprehensibly out-of-place references to events like The Six-Day War. But the “message” never gels into anything remotely intelligible, despite what participants including Ray Liotta have to say in the special features (Liotta says he felt God was working through him as he played his preacher character). The Identical is an embarrassing jumble with absolutely zero takeaway value, though Blake Rayne—in his acting debut—offers a surprisingly capable performance that deserved a more intelligent screenplay.

Identical 2 (380x253).jpgThere’s certainly nothing lacking from a technical perspective in Cinedigm’s Blu-ray presentation, which offers a squeaky clean transfer and a lively DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the “period authentic” rock and roll tunes that everyone raves about in the special features are presented in excellent fidelity.

The best special feature is a truly bizarre promotional spot for a regional restaurant chain called Zaxby’s in which Blake Rayne wows some NASCAR personnel with his driving skills. There are 16 minutes of deleted scenes, some of which provide some surprisingly effective moments that might’ve helped clarify what the filmmakers had in mind. One pair of scenes that stands as more interesting and emotionally moving than anything in the film concerns the bond between twin babies, born prematurely. The 20-minute “Making of The Identical” spends considerable time detailing the special effects created for this trimmed sequence (the babies were animatronic). There’s also a “Behind the Scenes” with various cast members and a commercial for the soundtrack (“The Music of The Identical”). The Blu-ray package also includes a standard DVD.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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