Synopsis: In 1936, William and Helen Hemsley welcome identical twin boys into the harsh conditions of the Great Depression. When traveling evangelist Reece Wade reveals that he and his wife cannot have children, William feels the Lord’s prompting to give them one of the infant boys in hopes of that son obtaining a better life. Despite their very different upbringings, the boys’ shared passion for music causes their lives to unknowingly intersect as they experience a powerful and mysterious connection often felt by twins. Drexel Hemsley becomes a rock and roll legend, while Ryan Wade struggles to find a balance between his love and vision for music and trying to please his adoptive father, Reverend Wade.
Release Date: September 5, 2014 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Musical
Rock and roll movies are like shooting fish in a barrel. All that’s required is a competent script, a charismatic cast, and a catchy soundtrack, and there’s no end to the fun. When they’re good, they’re really good. When they’re bad…they’re The Identical.
The Identical starts in the thirties with the birth of a pair of twin boys to William and Helen Hemsley (The Hurt Locker‘s Brian Geraghty and The Haunting in Connecticut‘s Amanda Crew). The Hemsleys were only expecting one child and, it being the Great Depression, couldn’t afford to keep both of them. One of the boys was given to preacher Reece Wade (Ray Liotta from Killing Then Softly) and his wife, Louise (Ashley Judd from Olympus Has Fallen), a couple who had been desperately trying to have children with no luck. The only stipulation is that the boy could not know his true parentage until both Hemsleys are dead. While the boy, who the Wades rename Ryan (Elvis impersonator Blake Rayne), is pressured into the seminary by his father, he hears a different call in his head – the call of rock and roll. Meanwhile, far away, his unknown twin brother, Drexel (also played by Rayne), hears the musical call, too, and answers it early enough to become Drexel “The Dream” Hemsley, a famous rock star. After hearing Drexel’s music, Ryan feels an instant connection with the star, and finds that he himself can sing and dance well enough to become “The Identical” – the greatest Drexel Hemsley impersonator in the country. As Ryan and Drexel’s lives play out, Ryan starts to figure out that Drexel is more than just a rock and roll star to him.
At first glance, it would seem like all of the cards had aligned correctly for The Identical. Even though the film is directed by a first-timer, Dustin Marcellino, the screenplay was written by Howard Klausner, who also wrote the Hank Williams biopic The Last Ride. So there’s that. The cast looks good on paper as well; in addition to Liotta and Judd, The Identical also features star power like Joe Pantoliano (Memento) and Seth Green (Party Monster). Another supposed plus. And Blake Rayne is a spooky dead ringer for a young Elvis Presley, in appearance and in voice, so if Drexel is a metaphor for The King, they’ve got that covered. What’s missing from The Identical is the magic; there’s no energy or excitement that is found in good rock and roll movies like That Thing You Do! and Eddie and the Cruisers. The Identical just goes through the motions.
The idea of twins separated at birth is an interesting one, if a bit overused, but the way that The Identical approaches it is very confusing. It’s difficult to tell if the film is supposed to be serious or if it’s meant to be corny. And it is corny. It just may not be a purposeful corny. For example, during one scene where Ryan is in the Army, he is playing guitar and singing for the other soldiers in the motor pool. His sergeant walks in and calls them all to attention, but instead of chastising them for screwing around, he tells Ryan to keep on playing, even joining them in their dancing along. In another scene, Ryan has entered a “Sing Like the Dream” contest which pits him against other Drexel impersonators. Drexel happens to show up, walk in just in time for Ryan’s performance, then declares to the judges “there’s your winner” before walking out, not even glancing at any of the other contestants. The dialogue and situations make the film seem more like a parody that would be seen on “Saturday Night Live” or “The Simpsons” rather than an actual film about rock and roll. The Identical always seems like it is just one good joke away from being an Airplane! type of a comedy, but it never gives the impression that it means to be. It can’t decide whether it wants to be Walk the Line or Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, so it tries to be both. And it fails.
The career of Drexel Hemsley seems to follow that of Elvis Presley (although Elvis is mentioned by name, so the two singers do exist in the same universe), and the musical numbers reflect that. Most of the songs were written by Jerry Marcellino (director Dustin’s grandfather, a legendary record producer who worked with everyone from Frankie Valli to Michael Jackson) and Yochanan Marcellino (Dustin’s father, a record label exec and artist manager), and they are, for the most part, authentic sounding. Drexel’s early songs are honky-tonk tunes, he goes through a surf-a-billy period, and finishes off with polished glam rock and soulful ballads. The music sounds right, but there’s nothing memorable; The Identical has no hit single, no “That Thing You Do!” or “On the Dark Side” to get stuck in the audience’s head for the ride home. The songs serve their purpose in the moment, but will be forgotten as soon as they’re over.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Dustin Marcellino
- Screenwriter(s): Howard Klausner
- Cast: Ashley Judd (Louise Wade)Ray Liotta (Reece Wade)Seth Green (Dino) Danny Woodburn (Damon)Amanda Crew (Helen Hemsley)Brian Geraghty (William Hemsley)Blake Rayne (Ryan Wade/Drexel Hemsley)
- Editor(s): Rick Shaine
- Cinematographer: Karl Walter Lindenlaub
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Christopher Carmichael
- Music Performed By: Jerry Marcellino
- Country Of Origin: USA