By Gary Murray

Starring Ashley Judd, Ray Liotta and Blake Rayne

Written by Howard Klausner

Directed by Dustin Marcellino

Running time 107 min

MPAA Rating PG

Selig Film Rating Matinee

When discussing The Identical with friends, I said something that I thought was common knowledge. Elvis Presley had a twin brother who died at childbirth. Everyone I talked to that night at the screening had no idea about the twin. The idea of a twin brother is the inspirational story behind the film The Identical. This is not an Elvis bio-picture but a re-imagination of an event.

It starts in the 1970s with a young man driving through the cotton fields of his youth. He can see in his mind the sharecroppers who worked the land. Then we go back to the Great Depression and a sharecropper William Hemsley (Brian Geraghty) and his wife Helen (Amanda Crew). She is pregnant and they are dirt poor.

The blessed event happens and the family is given twin boys. William is stunned that he now has an unexpected mouth to feed. Not knowing what to do, he goes to a revival and listens to Reverend Wade (Ray Liotta). The reverend and his wife have never been blessed with a child and keep praying for a miracle. William decides that the Reverend should raise the other child.

We flash forward a few years and Ryan Wade is being groomed to go into the ministry. His father is a fire and brimstone preacher and is hard on the boy. His mother Louise (Ashley Judd) is a much kinder soul and young Ryan is definitely a mama’s boy.

We flash forward a few years and Ryan (Blake Rayne) is a young man, driven by the music that sparks deep in his soul. He goes to a juke joint on the wrong side of the tracks with his buddy Dino (Seth Green) and some girls. An incident occurs and the place is raided. Ryan is sent off to the army.

Then rock & roll explodes with Drexel Hemsley who looks exactly like Ryan. Since Ryan has no idea about his twin, he is amazed by how much he resembles the icon. Ryan also knows that he does not want to become a minister. The young man feels a different calling. This upsets his reverend father.

The screenplay builds to an impersonation contest and a contract to impersonate Drexel Hemsley. With Dino on the drums, the story is whirl wind of county fairs and the eventual realization of who Ryan Wade truly is. It is a faith based film that doesn’t preach to the choir but tries to draw in a more secular crowd.

Ray Liotta is a brilliant actor, giving audiences hard-edged characters. This role is a bit of a departure but there is still that fire in his pale blue eyes. He captures that cadence of an old-styled preacher, stubborn and single-minded.

Ashley Judd is still one of the most charming actresses in Hollywood. In The Identical, she is not given much to do other than be the rock behind her men. It is mostly a supporting role that she delivers with sweetness.

The biggest problem with the film is with the casting of the lead, Blake Rayne. The guy sure can sing but his acting is mediocre at best. Even though they mention Elvis (just to make sure that the audience gets the idea that he is not Elvis and appease the lawyers), one can’t help but judge him to Mr. Presley. When compared to one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th century, it becomes a pale evaluation.

The overall production of the film is great, with cars and fashions from the 1950s to the 1970s. The film is full of hip clothing and even cooler rides. Being a fan of the 1950s, this film really has most of the details correct.

First time director Dustin Marcellino does a workman job with the material but never delivers a sense of style. The film hits all the beats but never catches fire. A bit of a trim here and there would have helped the overall pace of the work.

There is a story that has become a part of the legend of Elvis. The King of Rock & Roll entered an ‘Elvis Presley Impersonation” contest and lost. This film is a tangent of that idea. It is an interesting entertainment that should bring in droves of the faithful, both of religious faith and King of Rock & Roll faith. It is much more of a crowd pleaser than a critical success.

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