Giving a negative review to The Identical feels a little like kicking a puppy. The PG movie is inoffensive in its intentions to be a lighthearted frolic that honors faith and family while celebrating the beginnings of good ol’ American rock ’n’ roll—so I feel like an Elvis-hating Scrooge for saying it fails on nearly every count.
Here’s the thing, though—Elvis’ music and movies were fun. This movie that supposes Elvis (or a performer named Drexel Hemsley who looks and sounds very much like him) had an identical twin who grew up as a preacher’s son is not.
Most of its failings come from simple mechanics. From real-life Elvis tribute artist Blake Rayne who plays the twin brothers, to Ray Liotta who apparently buys into the stereotype that all evangelical ministers deliver their messages by pounding pulpits and shouting, the acting is community-theater caliber at best. More harmful to the film’s nostalgic goals is that its original songs, meant to evoke the best of 1950s and 1960s pop, not only sound generic—they don’t jibe with the eras they’re placed in.
The Identical’s biggest problem, however, is that it substitutes clichéd conflict between corny stock characters like a money-grubbing talent agent and a rooted-in-his-ways minister for real narrative development.
The idea that someone with Elvis-level talent may struggle with resentment that he’s wasting his gifts in the local church choir is an intriguing one. The notion that he has a twin who reaches superstardom using the same abilities is even more so. What kind of envy or spiritual growth might result from such an unlikely scenario? The Identical doesn’t seem interested in even the most obvious questions its premise poses, instead expecting a visual trip down memory lane to Graceland to suffice for a real story. Audiences aren’t likely to be won over by the poorly executed impersonation.