Separated at Birth 

"The Identical" tells an alternate history of Elvis and his brother, but not one worth seeing

Elvis Presley entered the world about a half-hour after his twin brother, Jesse, was stillborn. Among the many Elvis conspiracies that emerged after his death in 1977 were whispers (and a least one book) alleging that Jesse had lived through the birth but was given to a richer family because the Presley parents couldn't afford to care for two babies.

"The Identical" pretty much tells that story: Two brothers live, but one is immediately given away to another couple. Instead of focusing on Elvis, this movie focuses on Jesse. Or, since the names were changed to protect the innocent, instead of focusing on Drexel Hemsley, "The Identical" wastes two hours of your life on Ryan Wade (Blake Rayne). Drexel becomes the biggest star in the world, while Ryan, raised by a preacher and his wife, grows up unaware that he even has a brother, eventually and ironically becoming his own twin's greatest impersonator. There but for a cribside coin flip goes Ryan Wade.

The alternate universe stuff is neither fundamentally good nor bad in the movies. Elvis, holed up in a retirement home, fought an Egyptian mummy with the help of the brain of John F. Kennedy shoved in the body of an old black man in "Bubba Ho-Tep." Total blast. But alternate universes can only work if, to paraphrase "Ghostbusters," you don't cross streams. At one point, a character in "The Identical" tells Ryan, "There's only one Elvis, only one Beatles, and only one Drexel Hemsley." Except there can't be both an Elvis and a Drexel Hemsley who are both the kings of rock 'n' roll. If there's only one Elvis, who's this equally successful guy in the sequined jumpsuits singing vastly inferior material?

Other elements of Elvis' life are presented here—the way he fused gospel, country and blues music to form his sound, his time in the Army, his bad movies in the 1960s. Ryan Wade idolizes the guy who looks and sounds exactly like him but never seems to question how odd it is that, for instance, he knows how Drexel will answer questions on TV or what his next dance move will be. And yep, this movie even gives you the old "Time-Life Mysteries of the Unknown" nonsense of one twin feeling pain when the other is injured hundreds of miles away.

It's difficult to understand what drew the filmmakers to this story. Maybe they couldn't negotiate a deal to make an actual Elvis movie with Graceland (here alluded to as Dreamland or something). Maybe it began as a Jesse Garon Presley truther script and was softened along the way. But to give us what is such an obvious knock-off and not offer more bite or payoff is just baffling. It's just the story of an Elvis impersonator living life as an Elvis impersonator, without any of the real drama of being the guy who didn't become the king of rock 'n' roll.

On that note, Blake Rayne is a successful Elvis impersonator. He apparently won a competition in 1998 and turned it into a career. In the movie, Ryan wins a contest, too, netting him $25,000 in 1967—the equivalent of nearly $180,000 today—just for sounding like Elvis ... er, Drexel. So not only is this movie an alternate history of its subject but also its star.

There are positives, somehow. Ray Liotta, who executive produced, plays Ryan's firebrand preacher father, and he's quite touching. OK, so there's one positive. Mostly, you just wind up feeling sad for the noteworthy cast members sinking in this rudderless ship: Liotta, Ashley Judd, Seth Green (still playing teenagers at 40) and Joe Pantoliano. Instead of paying to see "The Identical," you might be better off just buying the cast a condolence card.

More by Colin Boyd


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