People love playing the what if game. They do it in life in what if they chose this career path or that one. They do it in their personal life in what if they asked this person out or went to this party. We also like playing it in sports. What if Bill Buckner fielded the ground ball in the World Series or what if key referee calls went the other way in the last 2 Cowboys playoff games? We also do it in history as well. What if Abraham Lincoln didn’t go to the theater that fateful night or what if John Kennedy didn’t go to Dallas? Elvis Presley had a what if associated with him. He had a twin brother that was delivered stillborn. THE IDENTICAL somewhat answers that question in a strange and brutal fashion.
THE IDENTICAL though does not use the name Elvis in their film. They came up with different names for more fun to be had. The story takes us back to the mid 30s in the Deep South. The Depression is still raging on and people are having trouble finding work. It is especially hard for William Hemsley (Brian Geraghty) and his wife Helen Hemsley (Amanda Crew). They are expecting a child and William is striking out in job prospects. When the fateful day comes, they are blessed with not one child but two. It does not get better for the pair and money is even tighter with two mouths to feed. William goes to a tent revival for religious sustenance. Here he encounters Reece Wade (Ray Liotta), a preacher who impresses him. Reece touches on he and his wife Louise (Ashley Judd) struggles to have a child. This is where the film starts going a bit awry. Reese’s sermon is very general and quite generic. I don’t think anyone would be moved by it, but the film makes it seem like it was powerful.
After the sermon, William makes a fateful decision. He is having trouble feeding two babies and he’s afraid the state will take them away because of neglect. He decides to give one of his babies to Reece because of Reece’s plight. This is basically Sophie’s Choice stuff here, but laughable in its execution. William makes Reece promise that he won’t tell this child he’s adopted until both of his birth parents are dead.
The film shifts its focus then to the Wade family. Reece raises Ryan Wade (Blake Rayne) as his own. You see Ryan as young child honing in on his singing skills. He learns bible verses through song. His voice is a gift. But Reece doesn’t see it that way. He pushes his son toward his profession. He’s quite stubborn in this approach. We of course have seen this basic plotline in many films prior and there’s nothing new added here. Ryan rebels and goes to honky tonks with his pal Dino (Seth Green). At one of these places, he meets his future wife Jenny (Erin Cottrell). They don’t take their relationship further because he is almost arrested. His father ships him off to the army to straighten himself out. This is an obvious parallel to Elvis’s army duties.
Meanwhile Ryan’s twin brother Drexel Hemsley (Blake Rayne again) that he knows nothing about is making it big in this new format called rock n roll. Drexel has the big hits and stars in forgettable films a la ah never mind. Ryan though is struggling to make it in the world. His father is still pushing the path of being a preacher, while he’s drawn to singing. He eventually settles down to a job as a mechanic with Jenny. His big break though comes when he enters a contest where the contestants sing Drexel Hemsley songs. What a coincidence?! In one of the more laughable scenes, Drexel himself waltzes in before Ryan performs. He gives his approval to the judges and saunters out. It is art imitating life imitating art.
Ryan’s big win in the contest lead him to perform as an imitator to Drexel. He’s billed as you guessed it The Identical. Ryan draws big crowds wherever he goes. He’s making big bucks and his unscrupulous manager (Yes a Colonel Parker inference can be drawn here) is pushing him harder and harder. Ryan though feels empty and wants to do some of his own songs. The agent pushes back and his career is back to zero once again. I just didn’t buy this whole concept of him as a cover act drawing huge crowds, while the original is still out there performing. Sure cover acts do quite well today, but the really big ones are the ones covering acts that are either defunct or no longer performing (Abba, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin). It really wouldn’t have worked as well back then as times were different.
THE IDENTICAL does so many things wrong that it is possible that years later we may watch this as a comedy perhaps. Director Dustin Marcellino uses original songs and music for the various time periods. These songs are forgettable, silly or just plain bad. The film also pushes faith quite a bit throughout. But if I was a really religious person, I would be offended by how false and hollow the sermons and sayings come across here.
There are also basic questions that need to be asked. Why doesn’t Ryan try to seek out Drexel at any point? He looks and sounds exactly like him. You would think he would try to see if they are related at all. That doesn’t happen. Ryan wears the Jewish symbol Chai around his neck for no earthly reason. Drexel wears one as well and we find out later on why that is the case. Ryan’s choice is never explained. Nothing from THE IDENTICAL feels authentic. The scenes don’t ring true and you feel empty after watching this farce.
Video: Tennessee looks great on the screen.
Audio: The music comes through fine here.
The Making of The Identical Director’s Commentary (20:35): The director goes talks about his stars, the music and the story. He also the animatronics used in a scene that wasn’t even in the final product. Other principals discuss the film as well.
Behind the Scenes with Cast Commentary (14:43): Most of the actors discuss their roles and how they played them. One notable exception is Ashley Judd.
The Music of The Identical (5:32): The music is talked about in some detail. The songs chosen were tailored specifically for the time period.
Zaxby’s Promotional Video (4:03): Odd video featuring actor Blake Rayne. He goes around the track in a stock car and then goes to Zaxby. It doesn’t really promote the movie or the restaurant all that well.
Deleted Scenes (15:56): There are ten in all. We have a couple that feature Jenny as a nurse. These scenes have the animatronic babies that were touched on in the director’s commentary. We also get more scenes with Ryan and his father and his best friend. It’s worth checking out just to see those babies.