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So Bad it’s Netflix #28: The Identical

So what if the their Spielberg collection consists of Amistad and Hook? Who cares if the only Altman films they have are Three Women and Ready to Wear? What Netflix does have in abundance is garbage. It’s time to surrender and celebrate it. This isn’t so bad it’s good… this is so bad it’s Netflix. 

The Identical (2014)

On January eighth, 1935, thirty five minutes before Elvis Aaron Presley was born, Jesse Garon Presley came into the world. Unfortunately Elvis’ twin was stillborn and the world will never know if Elvis’ rise to fame would have included a twin brother had Jesse lived. The Identical manages to present some interesting ideas about what Jesse Garon’s life trajectory might have been. The problem is the movie chooses to chronicle not Elvis’ origins but an ersatz Elvis named Drexel Hemsley. Drexel is the “Elvis” in the story, who finds fortune and fame as a rocker.

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His twin brother, Dexter, is not stillborn, but instead is adopted by a preacher (Ray Liotta) and his childless wife (Ashley Judd), since the boys’ real parents are too poor to care for twins.

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Dexter is renamed Ryan Wade and ends up watching Drexel’s career explode along with the rest of the world. Dexter is musically inclined and sneaks out to watch black musicians perform, but his strict pastor dad keeps a tight hold on him. Dexter enlists in the army, rejects a life in the church, works as a delivery man, then a mechanic, all the while adoring and studying Drexel’s music.

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It isn’t until the late 60’s, when Ryan wins a Drexel “The Dream” Hemsley-themed singing contest, does Ryan actually find a music career, quickly becoming a super successful Drexel impersonator act called “The Identical.”

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Long story short, Drexel dies in a plane crash in 1972 and Ryan finds out his origins by discovering a letter his real dad wrote to him at the time of his adoption.
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Ryan and adopted father clash then reconcile and Ryan continues his career as the Identical, only now he performs his awful original material along with the awful Drexel Hemsley stuff. Ryan also reunites with his real dad at the gravesite of Drexel and his mom.

Wow. That’s a lot of drama. Ray Liotta and Ashley Judd cry so much in the film, so convincingly, they turn The Identical into an effective tear-jerker. I haven’t seen Liotta cry this much since Karen flushed all that coke down the toilet. It seems Liotta had an emotional stake in The Identical; he became an executive producer after connecting with the film’s adoption themes, being adopted himself.

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Blake Rayne, who plays Drexel and Ryan, does a commendable job, mostly because he’s a dead ringer for Elvis and is actually a professional Elvis impersonator. Although, I have to say, he might look more like British raconteur, Stephen Fry.

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And what about the music? The songs supposedly recorded and performed in the 50’s sound like 2014 recordings of 5th rate Elvis rip-off tunes. The film’s soundtrack has no sense of time and place. The 50’s ballads, which should sound like “Love Me Tender” or “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” sound like soft rock trash that Dan Fogelberg or Bread might have have thrown in the dumpster. The Drexel “covers” sound laughably modern and overproduced and Ryan “The Identical” Wade’s originals sound like an Elvis impersonator singing Loggins & Messina.

Let’s go to the So Bad It’s Bullet Points!

  • Seth Green as the (very)Little Drummer Boy

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  • Seth Green isn’t the littlest person involved

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Yep. It’s Mickey from Seinfeld.

  • WTF?! Elvis Presley also exists in this universe?!

About halfway through The Identical, Ryan Wade, enjoying a run as the world’s number one Drexel impersonator, decides he wants to record some original tunes. Uh oh. Certainly hearing his originals makes us want to shout out to Ryan, “Don’t fuck up a good thing, buddy!” Not surprisingly, his manager (played by gay country artist, Waylon Payne) agrees with us, immediately chastising Ryan for even thinking about singing his own songs. “There’s only one Elvis, there’s only one Drexel and there’s only one Beatles. No one’s ever gonna sign you!” he yells.

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Hold the fucking phone. Did he say Elvis? I thought Drexel was Elvis! So, if Elvis actually exists in this world, Drexel is “The Identical” not Ryan. Drexel even stars in shitty “Elvis”-like movies; he made a Fishfry to Elvis’ Clambake for god’s sake!

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The solution to this problem was simple enough, even though the filmmakers completely ignored it; either don’t have Elvis exist on Earth, or, don’t have Drexel be an Elvis clone. Drexel should have been a more generic, Eddie Cochran-style performer. Problem solved, right? Am I crazy?! And furthermore, there is no reason to use the name “Drexel Hemsley” which is obviously supposed to sound like “Elvis Presley.” Their names don’t have to match, guys.

  • It’s Getting all Israeli up in here

What does it mean when a production company forces an agenda onto a film? It usually means that film is a pile of bullshit. That doesn’t exactly happen with The Identical, since we’re not exactly sure what the agenda is anyway. One thing is for sure, the filmmakers want peace in Israel and love between Christians and Jews. “You’re going to see a Judeo-Christian thread running throughout the whole film,” said Yochanan Marcellino, executive producer of The Identical, to the Christian rag, WND.

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Marcellino’s production company, City of Peace, has for its production company logo a giant Hebrew letter- shin, familiar to dreidel players the world over as the “put another chocolate coin in the pot, loser” letter. City of Peace is a Christian company, but they’re much more peace and love-y than say, Kirk Cameron’s production arm. Drexel Hemsley, and thus his impersonator, Ryan Wade, wear another hebrew letter around their necks- the chai. As the dwarf Drexel impersonator (Danny Woodburn) explains to Ryan (who for some reason has no idea about the origins of the chai necklace he’s been wearing for years), Drexel was Jewish on his mother’s side. Drexel was both Jewish and Christian, just the way the producers like it. This fixation with Israel really rears its weirdo head when the movie chooses to address the 1967 Israeli six day war. This is the only historical event The Identical brings up; not Vietnam, not JFK, MLK’s assassination or Watergate. In the scene, we see footage of the battle as Ray Liotta gives a sermon on how Christians and Jews must understand and work with each other. He even lights up a menorah as a nice gesture.

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All this jewish mishegas is kind of cute and commendable in its way, but it sticks out like a thumb wearing a yarmulke. The movie even has a completely unnecessary Jewish character, Avi Hirshberg (pronounced “Hoyshboyg”), played by Joey Pants.

So what’s with all the Jewish shout outs in a supposedly Christian film? I guess City of Peace is just a New Testament-y kind o’ studio that likes to get Old Testament-y from time to time. Something tells me the original Identical screenplay didn’t have these strange nods to Jewish culture and that the producers were dead set on jamming them in there come hell or high water. It all just makes The Identical even weirder than the normal faith-based flick and that’s saying a lot. While The Identical deserves points for treating the “parallel lives” idea with a certain amount of creativity, the film is way too strange and silly to be anything other than misguided and misbegotten. Having said that, it’s delightful to point and laugh at.

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Just think; if Dexter had never been taken from his birth parents, the twin boys could have grown up to be the Shmeverly Brothers.