A film about destiny.
I have in my possession pictures taken of me in the first grade in which I’m dressed in a mock turtleneck shirt, a cobalt blue blazer, and a pair of red, white & blue plaid pants. That’s an outfit that borders on child abuse. But it was the early 1970s and such moments of fashion faux-pas were fairly commonplace back then, so I can’t really hold the clothing choices my parents made for me against them.
The people behind the new film “The Identical,” on the other hand, they might just need a scolding. Look, I understand the decision to dress the movie’s characters in the absolute worst examples of 1970s fashion conceivable, really I do. It makes perfect sense that if you’re going to make a movie about Elvis, but it can’t actually be about Elvis, you have to change some things around.
That’s why, in lieu of Elvis’ trademark sequined jumpsuits, the main character in “The Identical” spends a lot of time walking around in his own trademarked brand of feces colored paisley prints. Like I said, it’s understandable. But it’s also hideous and hard to watch for two hours.
Despite the movie’s wardrobe malfunction, however, the idea behind “The Identical” is kind of clever. The filmmakers take the little known fact that Elvis Presley had a twin brother who died at birth and imagine what might have happened if that twin had lived and, for some reason, been adopted by a different set of parents.
The story begins with William and Helen Hemsley (Brian Geraghty, Amanda Crew), an impoverished young couple suffering during the Great Depression, coming to the realization that they can’t afford to feed both of their newborn twins. Tearfully they come to the decision to pretend one of the boys has died while secretly allowing him to be taken in by evangelist Reece Wade (Ray Liotta) and his barren wife Louise (Ashley Judd).
The child that remains with the Helmsleys grows up to be Drexel “The Dream” Helmsley, the movie’s analogue to Elvis. He’s not really Elvis, though, because Elvis still exists in this film’s universe. In fact, the film goes out of its way to have a character declare that there’s only one Elvis and only one Drexel. This is important because if they’re not really the same person, nobody can sue.
The other boy grows up as Ryan Wade. Ryan has the same remarkable talent and same desire to pursue a life of music as his unknown twin, but the Reverend Wade will hear none of it. Having dedicated the infant to God, Reece believes the boy is destined to follow in his footstep and pursue the ministry, not to sneak away with his best friend (the excellent Seth Green) to sing in blues clubs. Discouraging Ryan’s growing obsession with music at every step, it appears Reece will have his way, but then the inevitable happens. Ryan hears Drexel’s music on the radio.
Seeing in Drexel what path his life might have taken had he been given the opportunity, Ryan abandons both college and his father’s dreams to enter the army. His uncanny resemblance to The Dream quickly recognized, Ryan spends most of military career entertaining his fellow soldiers by singing Drexel’s hits. It should be noted that Blake Rayne, who plays both Drexel and Ryan, is an award winning Elvis impersonator in real life, so his singing of the pseudo-Elvis originals in the film is a fairly spot-on copy of The King.
After serving his time, Ryan returns to his hometown to marry his teen sweetheart, Jenny (Erin Cottrell), and at her insistence enters a Drexel Helmsley impersonation contest. Easily outclassing the other contestants, Ryan’s victory is ensured when the real Drexel unexpectedly shows up and declares him the winner. Ryan is quickly approached by an agent and, under the stage name of The Identical, begins a lucrative career as the world’s premier Drexel Helmsley impersonator.