A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
On January 8, 1935, a woman gave birth to twin boys in a little shack built by her husband in Tupelo, Mississippi. It is not known whether or not the twins were identical. One twin was stillborn, the other grew up to be Elvis Presley. For the entirety of his life, Elvis missed his twin (named Jesse). He prayed to him, talked about him all the time. If you visit Graceland, there is a small gravestone for Jesse in the family burial plot outside the house. Elvis wondered if he had somehow sapped the strength of his twin brother in the womb, and if that was why he became the superstar that he did. He had guilt about it. "The Identical," an extremely strange, confused, and bad film, directed by first-timer Dustin Marcellino, and written by Howard Klausner, is an alternate-history riff on these ideas. The twins here are named Ryan and Drexel Hemsley (both played by Blake Rayne, an Elvis impersonator.) "The Identical" asks a series of questions: what if the twin had lived? What if the Jesse-twin had been given away by his parents because they were too poor to take care of him? What if the twins grew up not knowing about each other? What if the Jesse-twin also had a hankering to make music? What if he watched as his doppelgänger took the world by storm?
The question I have is how the cringe-worthy music in the film, supposed to signify the birth of rock 'n' roll, could ever have taken any world by storm? The music in "The Identical" is what it would be like if Elvis skipped the rhythm 'n blues part of his influence and went straight to pop-lite power ballads. There is no sense in the film's music of Elvis' country and western roots or his love of gospel and there are none of the various intersecting influences that made Elvis' early recordings so genre-bending and revolutionary. All we have in "The Identical" are songs that make you feel like you've stepped into a community theatre production of "Footloose" mixed with "Les Miserables." And we are meant to believe that the entire culture changed because of the music heard in "The Identical."
The film starts with a black-and-white flashback, showing a Depression-era cotton-picking husband and wife (Brian Geraghty and Amanda Crew), agonizing over how they will take care of their newborns. One night, the father stumbles into a tent-revival, and watches as the preacher (Ray Liotta) gives an impassioned sermon, talking about how it is better to give than to receive, and admitting to the sympathetic crowd that he and his wife (Ashley Judd) have been unable to have children. The father, watching from the back, gets an idea. If it is better to give than to receive, and if that nice godly couple wanted a child and couldn't have one, then maybe they could give one of the twins to them? And that is exactly what happens. It is agreed that the children will not be told of one another.
Instead of following the rise of Drexel "The Dream" Hemsley to the top of the charts, we instead stay with Ryan, the twin who was handed over to the preacher. At an early age, the boy shows a gift for music, singing in the church choir, and his adoptive father thinks that God has called him to the ministry. Ryan loves God, does what his father says, attends seminary, but sneaks out of the house at night to attend music shows at fully-integrated (despite the fact that this takes place in Alabama in the 1940s) honky tonks and roadhouses. Something is happening in music! He wants in on it! One night he takes the stage and sings an horrific song called "Boogie Woogie Rock 'n' Roll" and the place goes wild! But how will he tell his father he doesn't want to be a preacher?