As silly as it is sincere, “The Identical” offers an alternative history based on the life and career of Elvis Presley. In this laughably ridiculous musical drama, a Presley-style singer named Drexel Hemsley becomes a major star in the 1950s. Hemsley’s fame runs concurrently with Presley’s real-life stardom in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.
Hemsley, like Presley, is a twin boy born in the deep South. Presley’s twin brother, Jessie Garon, was stillborn. The fictionalized Hemsley’s twin, however, stays alive and kicking.
Yet there’s no lively intelligence at work in “The Identical” script. This movie wasn’t written so much as traced — badly.
In Alabama during the midst of the Depression, the Hemsley twins are born to struggling young parents. The twins’ unemployed, worried daddy, William, gets an idea when he attends a tent-meeting revival. The preacher laments that he and his wife, who’s in tearful attendance, fear that they shall never be blessed with child.
“Maybe,” the preacher says, “y’all can pray for us tonight for our own miracle.”
Moved by the couple’s childless despair, William decides to render one of his twin boys to the preacher.
“What?” William’s wife, Helen, asks. “No, William. I’m not giving up my babies!”
“We got nothing and no way to get along,” William reasons. “One, we can make with just one.”
Despite Helen’s absolute objection to William’s proposal, she prays and quickly agrees to go along with her husband’s proposal.
“It’s God we’re really giving him, too,” William explains to the shocked but grateful Reverend Reece Wade and his wife, Louise.
“I’ll love him good for both us!” Mrs. Wade promises Helen.
A melodramatic musical score and feel-good narration underline the already abundant clichés and failings that follow. As bad as it gets, “The Identical” easily wins a place among 2014’s worst movies.
And so one child grows up to be Drexel Hemsley, rock ’n’ roll star. The other is Ryan Wade, a musically inclined preacher’s boy earmarked by his adoptive daddy to follow him into the pulpit.
Blake Rayne plays grown-up twins Ryan and Drexel. As both characters, he’s modeled after Presley. Meanwhile, no one in the movie realizes that Ryan and Drexel, despite being identical twins, actually are identical twins.
The familiarity of the film’s other cast members suggests that their careers are on the rocks. Ray Liotta plays Ryan’s hell-bent, emotion-wracked daddy. Ashley Judd co-stars as his patient, understanding mother. Seth Green is Ryan’s best friend and fellow musician, Dino.
So much about “The Identical” is so wrong. The songs, for one thing, can stylistically be wildly out of place in the time periods they’re set. The film’s chronology leaps through the decades. And for a story that’s apparently intended to parallel the development of rhythm-and-blues and rock ’n’ roll, its interpretation of music history is severely off key.
Critics once knocked films by saying they weren’t worthy of a big-screen theatrical release, the implication being that they deserved nothing better than a television audience or direct-to-TV release. In a reversal of fortune, the quality of TV drama has become so good that no self-respecting premium or slightly below cable network would present something as thoroughly amateurish as “The Identical.”
REVIEWER’S RATING: 1 star
STARRING: Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, Blake Rayne, Seth Green
DIRECTOR: Jerry Marcellino
NOW SHOWING: In wide release.
RUNNING TIME: 1 hr., 47 mins.
MPAA RATING: PG, for thematic material and smoking.
Excellent (4 stars), Good (3 stars), Fair (2 stars), Poor (1 star)