For those who don’t know, Elvis Presley had a twin brother named Jessie Garon, who was stillborn, leaving Elvis growing up as an only child. Given that the filmmakers apparently weren’t able to get permission to use the name, they do their own spin on the character (by which I mean they change his name). The Identical plays out a hypothetical, what-if scenario where the twin brother survives birth, but they are separated (since the parents couldn’t afford raising two kids, they give one of the boys away), leading to one being the famous musician and the other being a popular look-alike. It’s a very interesting and clever idea with a lot of potential, especially adding the fact that the film will serve as the directorial debut of Dustin Marcellino and the first role for newcomer Blake Rayne, who will be playing the two lead roles as the musician Drexel “the Dream” Hemsley and his twin brother, (Dexter) Ryan Wade, along with a solid supporting cast including Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, Seth Green (yes, that Seth Green) and Joe Pantoliano.
Given how out-of-nowhere this movie seems to be, I’m sure it’ll be gone just as fast, not just because I doubt the movie will do well financially, but The Identical is one of, if not the, biggest colossal failure of a film I’ve seen in a while. The word “trainwreck” does not even begin to describe the complete and utter disaster that this movie is. Imagine this scenario, a child is in a store, the child goes around aimlessly grabbing things then putting them back in all the wrong places, rinse and repeat, for about 100 minutes before the child realizes that he/she didn’t have any money to buy anything in the first place and leaves. The Identical is essentially the cinematic equivalent of that. It somehow does the impossible and managed to rival A Winter’s Tale for 2014’s biggest hilarious misfires.
Starting with the basic premise, which is an interesting idea, the filmmakers had absolutely no idea what to do with the concept. It’s as if with every turn in the film the writer went out of his way to make the story less and less interesting and compelling as humanly possible. It’s exactly as I described, there’s no sense of structure, relevancy of certain characters and plotlines come and go as they please, there’s no consistent thematic throughline, tone is poorly established, the dialogue is trite, certain character motivations are nonexistent, the plot relies too much on conveniences and any attempt at getting any sort of message across just falls flat. Also, the style and sense of worldbuilding makes absolutely no sense. The movie seems to take a very fable-esque, romanticized, melodramatic feel from the beginning, but then it will randomly throw in very serious things for a brief moment and then forget about it the next scene. For example, around half-way through, there’s a random scene where Joe Pantoliano’s character is watching news footage of the Six-Day-War on TV. The film then moves onto Ray Liotta’s character, a preacher and the adoptive father of the twin, doing a sermon where he talks about how important Israel is and how it’s important that they be supported by the Christian community, to which he follows by revealing (and I swear I’m not joking) a menorah that is fully lit as a “symbolic gesture” as he puts it (yeah, this is apparently a Christian movie and it also does a piss-poor job at getting that across). This scene has nothing to do with anything and is never referred to or mentioned of again. It’s also one of the few moments where reality kicks in for no real reason, feeling completely out of place. When you’re dealing with a story like this with a hypothetical exploration of a twin of legally-speaking-not-Elvis, there’s an inherent fantastical element the story, so throwing in these very real elements feel incredibly out of nowhere.
Another moment like that, which was actually more baffling, is that the movie even mentions Elvis at one point. Um…what? Elvis is supposed to exist in this universe. Are you kidding me? I understand the idea behind it, you don’t want to get sued for portraying a real person (that you clearly had no permission for) that you only changed the name of. However, once the name “Elvis” was mentioned, suddenly the ground upon which the already crumpled and burned film forms a sinkhole where it just falls deeper and deeper. How can a fictional character meant to be an Elvis stand-in exist in the same universe as Elvis? Isn’t it weird that these two people are living the exact same lives? Am I to believe that Elvis looks at Drexel Hemsley’s stuff and thinks not to sue? No way in hell would that happen! Drexel even appears in Elvis-esque movies! Why doesn’t anyone confuse Drexel or Dexter for Elvis? I could go on, but you get what I mean.
OK, so the writing is not too good, but how is the directing? Well, interesting thing about that question is that it would imply that there was actually some direction given at some point during the production. The film looks like it is either made-for-TV or direct-to-video, the period details are fine, but utterly lifeless, the songs are tired and generic, and the actors feel left to their own devices with no grasp on what to do with the material given to them. For goodness sake, even the extras suck! The extras! It’s not even something you have to pay close attention to notice, the extras are obviously not given any proper instruction to do what they need to do. Also, how do you mess up the make-up so bad? Apparently over the 30-some years or so the movie cover, the only character that ages is Ray Liotta’s, and boy do they go to town on him with the make-up work. Ashley Judd looks exactly the same in the beginning and the end. The actress who plays the birth mother of the twins dies about 30 minutes into the movie, at this point Dexter (or Ryan as his new family refers to him as) is in his late-teens and she looks exactly the same as she did in the very beginning of the film, the only difference being the on-the-verge-of-death make-up. Blake Rayne looks like his normal, 40-year-old self in his teens and his late 40’s. Sure, the film was competently put together, but that’s as far as my compliments toward this production can go.
Now, there are some really good actors in the film, the only two who manage to leave the film with some dignity are Ray Liotta and Joe Pantoliano, moreso with Pantoliano though because he brings his usual charm. Ashley Judd looks like she was drugged and taken to the set, not terrible by any means, but she is clearly phoning it in. Now, regarding Blake Rayne (who is actually a real-life impersonator), he is quite good whenever he does his shtick. He’s got the voice, he’s got the moves, he’s got the looks and he’s got the charm. Unfortunately, when he actually has to “act,” it’s like witnessing a victim of Medusa’s wicked stare, as he goes from lively and fun to completely boring, monotonous, and just plain bad. Also, why the hell is Seth Green in this movie? Did he owe someone a favor? Did a producer get some dirt on him? Was he drugged and taken to the set? Did he owe money to the government? I don’t know! I’d believe any one of those reasons!
I would love to see a behind the scenes documentary on this movie, just to see how the various decisions in the film got made. Somehow it fails to be a decent Christian movie because it’s too busy indulging in the rock and roll lifestyle of the character, it fails to be a decent musician drama because the character is not real and the way he’s handled is incredibly lackluster, it fails as an inspirational tale because…well, there’s nothing that inspiring about it. Now I’ll get this out of the way, the movie is terrible, absolutely, unequivocally terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible, and my score will reflect that. Despite that, I would actually still recommend seeing this movie, especially if you’re the kind of person that is into seeing really bad movies, and you’ve already made the most out of A Winter’s Tale several months ago. It’s a rare occurrence to see a movie fail so miserably and chaotically, and it’s even rarer for a film like that to hit that sweet spot where one could find consistent, unintentional hilarity. The Identical is one of those movies. I understand if this will not be worth going to the theater for, I get that it can be quite expensive, but as soon as this movie hits the shelves or a digital release, grab some friends, grab some drinks, grab some junk food and have yourselves one hell of a bad movie night. Seriously, bad movie aficionados, don’t let this one slip by.
Side Note: Several times I’ve mentioned A Winter’s Tale. For those unaware, the film came out Valentine’s Day and it was something special. It follows Colin Farrell’s character, a suspiciously Irish-sounding thief who was left in the harbor of New York on a model boat by his Eastern-European parents who were forced to leave the country, only to be found and raised by a Native American and at some point later, Russell Crowe, who is a demon of sorts that keeps the occurrences of miracles in check. One day he finds a white horse (which is later revealed to be a dog) that can apparently fly, and he names it, “Horse.” He breaks into a house where he finds Jessica Brown Findlay’s character, and instead of freaking out she drinks tea with him and they fall in love. Meanwhile, Russell Crowe is out to kill Colin Farrell for some poorly explained reason. If that sounds as amazing to you as it did to me, then give the movie a shot because the insane stuff I just mentioned is just the tip of the iceberg.