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The Identical' an imperfect impersonation

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Faux-Elvis offering strikes a number of false notes

The dearth of quality cinematic offerings in late August/early September is well-documented. This period, when summer is ending and everyone is busy preparing for the business of the fall, is a dumping ground for the unwashed and unwanted leftovers of the movie world. These are movies that even the studios know aren't any good. This point gets harped on, but it's important that it be repeated here, because this past weekend's sole new wide release epitomizes the concept.

'The Identical,' directed by first-timer Dustin Marcellino, is exactly the sort of meandering, uninspired and occasionally outright bizarre film that deserves to open in a slot that minimizes the damage it can do to the reputations of those involved.

The Hemsleys William (Brian Geraghty, 'Kilimanjaro') and Helen (Amanda Crew, TV's 'Silicon Valley') are a young couple struggling with poverty in rural Alabama in the 1930s. When Helen gives birth to twins, William is at a loss how can he provide for these two children? But when a tent revival passes through town, a solution presents itself.

Reece Wade (Ray Liotta, 'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For') is a good-hearted evangelist preacher. He and his wife Louise (Ashley Judd, 'Divergent') are unable to have children of their own. William hears their story and sees a solution painful though it may be to his own dilemma.

And so, the Hemsleys hand over their son Dexter to the Wades, asking only that they refrain from telling him his true origins until both William and Helen have passed away.

Dexter Hemsley grows up to be Ryan Wade (Blake Rayne in his feature debut), a young man who lives his life in the church, yet can't quite escape a deep connection to the musical realm. Said connection is only exacerbated by the sudden emergence in the late 1950s of a transcendently talented rock and roll singer: a singer named Drexel Hemsley also known as 'The Dream.'

While the Wades struggle with whether to tell Ryan about his origins, he remains obsessed with 'The Dream' even as he moves forward with his life. But everything changes when Ryan's wife Jenny (Eric Cottrell, TV's 'The Glades') convinces him to sign up for a 'The Dream' impersonation contest. He wins, obviously, and embarks on a lucrative career as a Drexel Hemsley impersonator.

But even with his undeniable connection to Hemsley, Ryan finds himself looking beyond, searching for something more than just aping someone else. He wants to be his own man and make his own mark he just doesn't know how.

It's hard to put into words just how weird 'The Identical' is. Near as I can tell, the plan of the filmmakers - the aforementioned Marcellino and screenwriter Howard Lausner (best known for writing the script for 'Space Cowboys') was to write a jukebox musical movie about Elvis and his twin, but they didn't want to pay any royalties, so they created this weird Elvis analog in Drexel Hemsley; someone named Chris Carmichael and two people who share the same last name as the director came up with a bunch of third-rate knockoff songs to go with him it's reminiscent of 'That Thing You Do,' only terrible.

Blake Rayne had never acted before this movie. Near as I can tell, he still hasn't. That isn't to knock the guy he's got some charisma and a decent singing voice. But he's doing an imitation of an imitation; poor guy didn't have a chance. Liotta's not bad here, but he's not great either. He's gnaws on the scenery a bit; I assume he did this as an opportunity to play against type. Judd's a non-entity, as is Cottrell. There are a couple of fun surprises in the supporting cast; Seth Green (TV's 'Family Guy') and Joe Pantoliano ('Loosies') have some fun, but let's be honest if you're looking to Seth Green and Joe Pantoliano to save your movie, you've made some mistakes along the way.

Not a lot about this movie makes sense. The timeline doesn't add up and a number of major plot points come together in a weird way; frankly, 'The Identical' works less and less the more you think about it. There are those who would encourage connoisseurs of 'so bad it's good' cinema to check this movie out; they wouldn't be wrong. There's an odd mlange of earnestness and unintentional campiness that might well lend itself to ironic viewing.

Unfortunately, despite its good intentions, 'The Identical' is little more than an impersonation of an actual film.

[1 out of 5]

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