There’s a bizarre, surreal twist at the end of The Identical, right at the climax. For now, I’ll just say this: If you’re into Odd Dwarf Characters Who Appear at the Most Unexpected Moments, then this is the movie for you.
Otherwise, there’s one — and only one — reason to see the new faith-based movie The Identical, and that’s for the music. For that matter, you could just skip the theater altogether and listen to the soundtrack instead. (I’m listening to song clips as I write this review. “You Gotta Get Up,” “Burnin’ Rubber” and “Bee Boppin’ Baby” are especially good.)
Newcomer Blake Rayne plays both protagonists, the literally separated-at-birth identical twins Ryan Wade and Drexel Hemsley (more on their different last names in a moment). Rayne already had a career as an Elvis impersonator when approached for this role. Musically, that was a smart move; the scenes in which Rayne sings are by far the film’s best moments. If you like 1950s boogie-woogie rock and/or Elvis, you’ll like the music in The Identical.
But if you like good acting, well, Rayne’s not your guy. The rest of the cast includes some decent talent — like Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, and Joe Pantoliano — which only further accentuates Rayne’s limitations. But the movie has other problems, too.
First, a reasonably promising premise is never fully explored. A poor young couple, William and Helen Hemsley, has twin boys during the Great Depression and decides they can afford to care for only one of them. When they hear that Rev. Reece Wade (Liotta) and his wife Louise (Judd) are unable to have children, you can guess what happens next.
And that’s where the story starts to fall apart. The film mostly sticks with Ryan Wade — we see him growing up in a loving, churchgoing family and developing a talent for singing — but almost completely abandons the twin who was left behind, Drexel Hemsley. We later learn that Drexel has grown up to be a rock star nicknamed “The Dream,” who partly inspires Ryan’s desire to be a singer too. But we don’t learn how Drexel got there — escaping dire poverty to make it to the top of the radio charts. We also don’t learn much about Drexel’s personality or convictions . . . except that we see him drinking whiskey. Once. While brooding music plays. So, that.
As Ryan’s singing talent develops, he starts sneaking out at night to visit a honky-tonk roadhouse, where he’s drawn to the bluesy boogie-woogie vibe at the all-black juke joint. Again, some great music. But Rayne’s portrayal of a high school kid defies all credibility — beginning with the fact that he’s forty-one years old. Um, no. Please, no. (Judd, meanwhile, is 46. The actor playing her son is 41. You do the creepy math.)
Predictably, his preacher dad doesn’t like Ryan dabbling in the Devil’s music, and says it’s “time to grow up and be a man.” Rev. Wade is convinced his boy has missed God’s calling to be a minister. But of course, that’s the Reverend’s plan, not Ryan’s, or God’s. Ryan just wants to rock. Not in a rebellious way — he’s still a good Christian man-child — but to rock nonetheless.