Earnest and well-intentioned, "The Identical" is based on a "what if" that straddles the line between ingenious and loopy: Suppose Elvis Presley’s stillborn twin had lived, been raised separately and unaware that he had a brother, and eventually turned into a world-class Elvis impersonator?
Take a second to savor that.
You could do something pretty funny with the idea, but here it’s presented without irony. The filmmakers use such a straight-laced and schmaltzy approach that "The Identical" might as well be a Hallmark TV movie.
The story begins in the Depression-era South, when the wife of an out-of-work young man gives birth to twin boys. Unable to support two children, the couple arrange for one infant to be adopted by a tent preacher (Ray Liotta) and his wife (Ashley Judd), who have been unable to conceive.
Liotta seems a surprising choice to play a Southern preacher, but goes at it gamely.
The boys grow up. Drexel Hemsley becomes an ultra-successful rocker nicknamed "the Dream" — he’s Elvis in everything but name. Getting much more screen time is his twin, named Ryan Wade, raised by the minister to follow in his footsteps. This young man has a dynamite singing voice, but finds himself less interested in hymns than in rhythm and blues and soul, and especially in Drexel’s brand of in-your-face rock.
Both young men are played by Blake Rayne, an amiable sort who bears a baby-faced resemblance to Elvis, and is in real life a retired Elvis imitator who performed under the name of Ryan Pelton. Rayne works very hard at the roles.
Despite much conflict with his dad over his love for the devil’s music, Ryan decides to stick to his guns and become a Drexel imitator — such a good one that he’s offered a contract to perform full-time at state fairs and the like. There are further developments I won’t spoil.
"The Identical" is an example of what’s known as faith-based filmmaking, in which Christian themes play at least a modest part. The film is produced by a Nashville media company called City of Peace, which aims to promote works of "redeeming value." Though the religious elements here are secondary, the film treats them seriously, and an important sub-theme is Ryan’s decision to make secular music his calling — his ministry — rather than following the path his dad wants for him.
That’s fine, but the hokum level remains high throughout the movie. There’s a brief and extremely unlikely encounter between the brothers, and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen such a stereotyped redneck sheriff on screen. On the other hand, there’s decent support from Joe Pantoliano as a mechanic who employs Ryan, and Seth Green as a fellow rocker.
Elvis fans may enjoy seeing Rayne in the performance scenes — he does a good Presley act. But the movie’s overall corn-fed air makes it a long 106 minutes.