The Identical isn’t a particularly great film, and bears serious narrative inconsistencies. Yet, it’s nowhere near worthy of the barrage of hatred it has received online.”

 

 

by Steve Pulaski

Any critic or audience member claiming The Identical is the worst Christian film to emerge in American cinema in 2014 has never seen Heaven is For Real or the impossibly worse Persecuted, a film drastically overblowing the idea of Christian persecution in America. Comparatively, The Identical is a boon to the rollercoaster ride that is contemporary Christian cinema, but on its own, it’s an imperfect, frequently corny, but earnest attempt at a film detailing the gap between parents’ expectations and preconceived route for their child and their child’s own personal aspirations and opinions. And the act and laborious task of finding a middle ground within.

The fact that The Identical has been chastised and referred to as a film that plays like the equivalent of a bad midnight movie, is a preposterous notion by those who likely haven’t sought out and sat through the aforementioned films or even overwrought, teary-eyed Americana pictures like Last Ounce of Courage. This particular film does misstep on key narrative elements, and as far-fetched as the story can be, still manages to be an energetic and fun time at the movies, which is precisely what this demographic is looking for and rightfully deserves.

The Identical
Directed by
Dustin Marcellino
Cast
Blake Rayne, Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd
Release Date
5 September 2014
Steve’s Grade: C+

The film liberally depicts the life of American rock and roll musician Elvis Presley, who was born alongside his stillborn brother. The Identical questions what would’ve happened had Elvis’ brother been born but, in turn, separated at birth by a family that had desperately little money and necessities to provide the child with accordingly. William and Helen Hemsley give birth to identical twin boys, and agree to give the local pastor and his wife, Reverend Reece and Louise Wade, respectively, their child, who grows up to be Drexel Hemsley, an uncommonly ambitious and revolutionary singer and performer, despite an inherently controversial nature in a Bible-bred area of America. The pastor’s child grows up to be Ryan Wade, a man who, despite an incomparable resemblance to his brother he doesn’t know is of the same blood as him, struggles greatly with personal expression and artistic liberty. Kept in line by his stern father (Ray Liotta), who has a gig as a pastor already outlined for him and a passive mother (Ashley Judd), Ryan wants to spread the joy and energy Drexel Hemsely brings to the table through cover-songs and replica performances but cannot find a creative outlet to do so. It isn’t until Ryan is contacted by an agent and begins a career as an artist covering the work of Drexel Hemsley, his idol.

Ryan Wade and Drexel Hemsely are played by Blake Rayne, a real-life Elvis Presley impersonator, who does an incredible job with the role he’s given. This fact is unsurprising, given there really has never been a more perfect role for Rayne, in his debut acting career nonetheless, and he gives it his all, from the dramatic scenes to the scenes involving a breakneck display of vocal and performance abilities. Rayne fits like a glove in the titular role, and seeing as he’s a new actor, with the bulk of a very odd film resting on his shoulders, it’s nice to see him sink into the challenge accordingly, much like a veteran screen actor. It’s unfortunately sad to note that he operates in a sea of either mediocre to average performances by comparison, with the only other noteworthy performance is by Liotta, who delivers what is arguably the worst performance in his career. Despite amazing projects under his belt, Liotta is clunky and out of place here, despite being strong in his faith and religion, overplaying emotional sequences and cycling through emotions with little to no fluidity whatsoever.


While we’re stuck on the criticisms, there is an obvious but expected note of corniness and cheapness in the aesthetic of the film, despite its apparent budget of about $16 million, which I’ve sort of just assumed comes with the territory. Furthermore, we also just might have the first Christian film on our hands without a clear message rooted in biblical gospel or faith ideas. We do get a message, but it’s not the biblical one we expect, and even though this message is present, it’s not entirely the main focus and is more downplayed than expected. I can’t figure out if I’m simply stunned the film didn’t embellish its ideas, as contemporary Christian cinema often does, or the fact that the message really was played so low-key it was difficult to identify at times.

However, what I got out of The Identical is an idea I wish more people would consider, which is the disconnect between parental ambitions and expectations versus their offspring’s ambitions and expectations. Too often I meet people of my own, college-age, hamfisted in a direction bestowed upon them by their parents or provided with negative reinforcements and lack of support from the key forces in their life, and it saddens greatly. As somebody who has been met with nonexistent to fairly minimal dissent as to what I want to try and formulate my life to be, I speak as somebody eternally grateful but also somebody who is eternally sympathetic to the case. The Identical nicely articulates that sort of communication disconnect between forces, and seeks to find a middle-of-the-road compromise between Reece and his adoptive son, which works in the vein of the film being relatively humble in its ideology.

The Identical isn’t a particularly great film, and bears serious narrative inconsistencies. Yet, it’s nowhere near worthy of the barrage of hatred it has received online. If one can look at the specific idea behind its characters, and focus on Rayne’s commanding energy and illuminating abilities to perform in the film, then it’s a serious candidate for the most unexpected crowd-pleaser for those brave enough to put faith in it for one-hundred and seven minutes.