Elvis Presley is dead, but Elvis impersonations will live forever.
Ryan Pelton, who was an Elvis impersonator in casinos and state fairs, makes the large leap to feature film in THE IDENTICAL. Pelton plays adult twins born in the Depression-era Deep South who were separated at birth. Both have a genetic predisposition for muttonchops and hip-shaking rockabilly, and one becomes a singing superstar. But Pelton doesn’t use his real name, instead adopting the new stage moniker Blake Rayne. And neither of his characters in The Identical are named Elvis.
Confused yet? We’re just getting started.
Unable to provide for their newborn twin sons, William and Helen Hemsley (Brian Geraghty, Amanda Crew) offer one to Reece and Louise Wade (Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd), a traveling Tennessee evangelist and his wife, who are unable to bear children. They all agree to keep the swap secret from everyone, including the kids.
The adopted son, renamed Ryan (Pelton, er, Rayne), becomes a buttoned-down choirboy who learns scriptures by committing them to song. He also likes sneaking off to the local blues joint with his drummer buddy Dino (Seth Green) to watch and sometimes jam with the house band.
Reece’s hopes that Ryan will follow him into the ministry are dashed once a new rock star, Drexel Hemsley (Rayne again), starts topping the charts, appearing in beach-party movies and living in a mansion called “Dreamland.” Everyone notices that Ryan resembles Drexel, and once Ryan wins a lookalike contest, it launches his career as a Drexel impersonator.
Ryan and Drexel look like, sound like and have similar backgrounds to Elvis. But any notion that this is an offbeat alt-reality fable about an Elvis doppelganger and his unknown twin/impersonator evaporates the moment Ryan’s promoter offhandedly refers to the existence of Elvis.
What’s left is a shambolic spectacle from first-time director Dustin Marcellino, like an unfunny parody of Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, itself a parody of rags-to-rockabilly biopics. Toss in the irrelevant plot point of Ryan learning that he’s part Jewish and you’ve got a dash of The Jazz Singer for good measure.
The Identical was produced by Nashville’s City of Peace Films, founded by the director’s father, and distributed by Freestyle Releasing, who flacked for the Christian agitprop God’s Not Dead. There’s nothing inherently objectionable about the sympathetic portrayal of Southern church culture, and it’s commendable (if not realistic) that Ryan’s biological and adoptive parents are cast as altruistic rather than stereotypically abusive or uncaring.
But the filmmakers’ faith-based motives disrupt the formulaic story arc. Most notable is a mid-’60s sequence featuring news footage of the Six Day War between Israel and Egypt, punctuated by a stem-winder from Rev. Reece about the imperative for Christians to support “God’s Chosen People” (plus Ryan’s narrative aside assuring us that Israel won the conflict).
The original songs, co-written by music producer Jerry Marcellino (the director’s grandfather), are serviceable. The same cannot be said for Rayne’s uncharismatic performance, unaided by flawlessly insipid dialogue such as “Thank you. And I mean thank you, for everything. And I mean everything, daddy.” Unfortunately, The Identical‘s audiences aren’t likely to share that appreciative sentiment.
This article appeared in print with the headline “Odd couples”