Ashley Judd, Ray Liotta, Seth Green, and Blake Rayne in The Identical (2014)


(director: Dustin Marcellino; screenwriter: Howard Klausner; cinematographer: Karl Walter Lindenlaub; editor: Rick Shaine; music: Jerry Marcellino/Yochanan Marcellino/Christopher Carmichael/Klaus Badelt; cast: Blake Rayne (Ryan Wade/Drexel Hemsley), Ray Liotta (Reece Wade), Seth Green (Dino), Joe Pantoliano (Avi Hirshberg), Ashley Judd (Louise Wade), Erin Cottrell (Jenny O’Brien), Brian Geraghty (William Helmsley), Amanda Crew (Helen Hemsley), Waylon Payne (Tony, agent); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Mark G. Mathis/Yochanan Marcellino/Matthew Dean Russell/Clarke Gallivan/Coke Sams/Howard Klausner/Joe McDougall/Clio Tegel; Freestyle Releasing; 2014)

A hollow inspirational Christian-themed jukebox musical that is flat out absurd.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A hollow inspirational Christian-themed jukebox musical that is flat out absurd. It tells us to believe the evangelical tent preachers warning us to follow God’s calling, because that’s the only voice that really counts. It also acts throughout as a pro-Israel film, proselytizing why Christians should back the Jewish state of Israel. The rock star wears a Chai pendant around his neck, a Jewish symbol. The rock part yields to forced messages about faith and plenty of bad songs. It’s bemusedly directed by first-timer Dustin Marcellino. It’s ripe for camp, but that never happens intentionally. Its revisionist history preaches that the King’s legendary life followed a plan by God and that the pop culture icon was a wholesome figure. To be believed it requires more than a suspension of belief or more than a few jugs of wine.

The incredulous heartbreaking biopic by Space Cowboys writer Howard Klausner loses its way in its agenda-driven faith-based storytelling, and ridiculously assumes what would happen if Elvis Presley’s twin brother lived instead of died at birth (as in actuality). We’re informed one boy Drexel Hemsley (Blake Rayne), born in 1935, would be raised by his loving itinerant cotton-picking parents (Brian Geraghty & Amanda Crew) in Decatur, Alabama. They somehow survived the Depression by working with the blacks in the cotton fields. The other son, whom they couldn’t afford to keep, Ryan Wade (also acted by Blake Rayne), was given a fake burial and raised in more privileged circumstances by the caring tent revivalist, evangelical preacher, Reece Wade (Ray Liotta), an honest reverend, if you can believe that, and his loving wife Louise (Ashley Judd). The good boy, who loves singing, joins the army and after his tour of duty marries the sweet hometown Lebanon, Tennessee nurse, Jenny (Erin Cottrell). But he feels bad he breaks dad’s heart by not having a calling for the ministry. Instead he becomes a mechanic and later makes a tough choice, breaking his father’s heart again, to make a fortune impersonating rock idol Drexel “The Dream” Hemsley, unaware that’s his twin, idolized by the public.

Ryan learns in the 1970s, after Drexel “The Dream” died in a plane crash, that he was his twin. His Jewish mother Helen dies in the hospital before they can speak on his visit. Thereby Ryan goes to Decatur and reunites with his frail biological dad, while still respecting his ailing adopted father back home in Tennessee.

These are nice boys, both raised by God-fearing parents. No cursing, No scandals. No drugs. No alcohol. What prevails in the storytelling is a lot of scenes that are awkwardly goofy, as the filmmaker paints these fictionalized Elvis brothers as wholesome regular guys.

Blake Rayne, the former Elvis impersonator, under the name Ryan Pelton, makes his acting debut, and though limited in acting range does what’s asked of him and gives a decent performance.Ray Liotta tries hard to give a good performance and actually does, but the film has nowhere to go and his efforts seem wasted.

The forgettable songs are mostly by Jerry Marcellino and Yochanan Marcellino. The director, Dustin Marcellino, is Yochanan’s son and Jerry’s grandson. This is a Bible Belt targeted inspirational film, but I don’t know if it’s possible for this curio to find a receptive audience even there.