I used to think that Elvis impersonators didn’t arrive on the scene until late in the King’s career, but apparently they have been around since the mid ‘50s. The first was Carl ‘Cheesie’ Nelson who did his own versions of “That’s All Right, Mama” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and even sang with Elvis in 1954. It’s all documented in the book, “Elvis in Texas” by Stanley Oberst and Lori Torrance. Oh, the things you learn on Wikipedia.
The above story might have made for a better story than The Identical did. That movie has a similar-themed story. In real life, Elvis was born with a twin brother, Jesse who died shortly after childbirth. Or did he?
The Identical is a pretend story of “what if.” All of the names have been changed, but it is basically a story about what would have happened if Elvis’ brother had lived and had been raised by another family.
This story begins during the Great Depression with the Hemsley’s, a poor couple expecting their first child. However, it is during the birth that the new parents learn that they have two sons, Drexel and Ryan. Convinced that they would not be able to afford to raise both boys, the Hemsleys offer up Ryan, for adoption to a traveling pastor and his wife. They make Rev. Reece Wade (Ray Liotta) and Louise (Ashley Judd) promise that they will not tell Ryan that he was adopted until his natural parents have passed away.
As time goes on, Reece is convinced that his son is destined to further his ministry. Ryan (Blake Rayne) tries to follow his father’s plan, but it becomes clear soon on that he has a gift for music and singing. It doesn’t help that this new rock star comes on the scene, Drexel Hemsley (also Rayne) looking and sounding exactly like himself. Ryan becomes Drexel’s #1 fan and ends up pursuing a career where he imitates the singing legend and becomes known as The Identical.
Despite the fact that the story is far-fetched, it starts out pretty good. In fact, the first third is probably the best section of the movie. Liotta and Judd are fantastic as the preacher and his dutiful wife. One scene in particular is priceless where the pastor is interrupted in his study by Louise who comes in with the latest copy of Drexel Hemsley’s new record. Without saying a word, she purses her lips, puts her hand on her hip and tilts her head to say, “What do we do now?” The two age gracefully throughout the film and are reason enough to see it.
However, star power isn’t enough to make a good story great. The film does all right when it keeps a light-hearted tone, but begins to flounder when it insists on becoming a drama. In addition, as the characters age and the fashion styles start to look out of control, so does the story. The movie puts all its energy in Ryan’s character and we only see glimpses of his brother’s life. The two DO meet, but it is only for a moment, and that is a disappointment.
Rayne, who is an Elvis impersonator in real life, does okay for this first feature film and having Seth Green play his best friend was an inspired choice. He actually plays the drums himself in the movie, which is pretty impressive. Also impressive is the fact that the film, which is not a musical, features over 20 original songs, all sounding like they were written by Elvis.
Promotion for the film has been odd as well. All over the internet there have been ads that will feature a character from the movie and say, “Ashely Judd…in a Christian movie!” or “Seth Green…in a Christian movie!” Apparently the Marcellino family who wrote, directed and produced the movie thought that promoting the stars instead of the story was the way to get Christians to see a faith-based movie. We’ll see if it works, but I suspect Christians would be more interested to know that the film has a few good messages in it including that you can be a singer and still be following the will of God.