The Identical takes an interesting factoid from pop music history (Elvis had an identical twin brother who was stillborn) and leaves fact for fiction with a script that is part roman à clef, part hypothetical storytelling. The film poses these questions: What if Elvis and his identical twin were separated at birth, raised in separate homes, and both answered the siren call of rock ’n’ roll? What if one of these boys became Elvis? What if the other boy became his most successful impersonator? In The Identical, Elvis is Drexel Hemsley, born with his twin, Dexter (both played by Blake Rayne), to an out-of-work Dust Bowl couple during the Great Depression. Knowing that they can’t afford to feed two more mouths, father William Hemsley gives one of the twins, Dexter, to tent-revival preacher Reece Wade (Ray Liotta) and his wife, Louise (Ashley Judd). Dexter is rechristened Ryan Wade and grows up unaware of his doppelgänger. He’s born with the gift of song, and for a while we feel confident that he’s the one destined for glory, but once we see a record cover with Drexel Hemsley’s name plastered all over it, we know that Ryan will henceforth forever be “The Identical.”
We follow Ryan as he moves from job to job, marries, wins a Drexel impersonator competition, all the while trying to make music a part of his life and constantly dodging his father’s urgings to join the ministry. The trouble with The Identical is that it has an agenda that makes it impossible to explore the inspired premise with all its dramatic possibilities. Produced by City of Peace Films, a Christian media group whose code phrase for enforcing their religious agenda is to tell stories with “redeeming value,” the movie is overwhelmed with the task of preaching to its audience; as the narrative progresses, the intense moralizing edges out any possibility of solid storytelling. It’s such a shame, too. The premise of this film raises so many wonderfully complex questions. But the actual film is disappointingly content with simplistic answers.