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Our Reel Heroes Book
Greg Smith & Scott Allison

Acknowledgements

  • ♦ We thank Fotomontaggio for the header photo from Wikimedia Commons.
  • ♦ Many thanks to the good folks at Sedona Taphouse for serving up some good eats after we watch the movies reviewed here.
  • ♦ Many thanks to our friends at The Numbers where we get our movie release information (which aids in advance planning)
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The Identical ••

The_Identical_posterStarring: Blake Rayne, Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd
Director: Dustin Marcellino
Screenplay: Howard Klausner
Drama/Music, Rated: PG
Running Time: 105 minutes
Release Date: September 5, 2014

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Scott, we just saw The Identical. It wasn’t Elvis, but an amazing simulation.


scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

I had the identical reaction, Greg. Let’s recap.


It’s the Great Depression and William and Helen Hemsley (Brian Geraghty, Amanda Crew) can’t afford to keep their newly born identical twin boys. They decide to give one of them to Reverend Wade and his wife (Ray Liotta and Ashley Judd). The boys are never to know their origins. Dexter Hemsley, the son that stayed, goes on to be a big rock-n-roll star. Meanwhile, Ryan Wade (Blake Rayne) is growing up as a preacher’s son – but he has the gift of music. While the Reverend Wade wants Ryan to follow in his father’s footsteps, Ryan has other ideas.


Ryan eventually tells his dad that his true calling is a career as a musician, not as a minister. Reverend Wade does not take the news very well at all. Ryan finds success imitating his twin brother’s hit songs on stage, but soon he grows tired of the gig and wants to produce his own original music. One day Ryan discovers that he is actually Dexter’s twin brother. He reconciles with his father and has a tearful reunion with his biological dad.


Scott, I have read that Elvis was a twin and his brother died at birth. Elvis spent his life guilt-ridden wondering if he had so much power because he had stolen it from his twin. This movie appears to try to answer the question: “What if Elvis’ brother had lived?”

If that is the case then the filmmakers went out of their way to do so without specifically saying so. They hired Blake Rayne (who is himself an Elvis impersonator) who looks so much like Elvis that sometimes you’re left wondering if Rayne isn’t himself a twin of the King of Rock-n-Roll. The music is patterned after the rockabilly themes of the 1950s but never comes close to really doing justice to the same. And the story itself seems like a retread of movies gone by where a preacher’s son just isn’t cut out for the cloth and wants to pursue a life of forbidden music (or dance, or acting, or fill-in-the-blank).


Greg, The Identical is a simple, sweet movie that’s a throwback to 1970s made-for-television films. Today you’d see this type of movie on Hallmark cable television. There’s nothing specifically wrong with this movie. The acting, directing, and production are all fine. The problem is that there is nothing distinctive or distinguishing about the film. No new ground is broken, and in fact we’ve seen tales of this type a thousand times before.

If you are going to take us, the audience, down a well-worn path, you’d better include some especially dazzling scenery along the way. We don’t have that here. Even the music is pedestrian. Blake Rayne is impressively Elvis-esque but my feet weren’t a-tappin’ like they were during Jersey Boys earlier this year. I found myself rooting for the characters and hoping that something interesting would happen. Alas, it never did.


As a hero, Ryan Wade does alright. He’s  a good, honest guy with lots of charisma and boy-like charm. But as you point out about the film itself, Ryan doesn’t really have anything interesting to set him apart from other heroes we’ve seen this year or last. He just goes through the paces and sings some really forgettable songs.

There aren’t any real villains in this story. The preacher / father character pushes Ryan down a path like the one he followed. And when Ryan finally diverges from the path, the father delivers contradictory messages by lauding the fact that the boy made an adult decision, then tells him he is breaking his father’s heart. It’s pretty tame stuff.


I agree that Ryan is hardly the most interesting character we’ve seen on the big screen. But I do have to give him credit for undergoing a significant transformation as a hero. He starts out with an overeagerness to please his father, a type of over-selflessness that limits him both professionally and spiritually. His missing inner-quality is his backbone, which he finally develops when he courageously stands up to his father. He summons this same courage later when he defies his business manager. The Identical shows us how we can never fulfill our full potential until we become true to ourselves.

You’re right, Greg, that there are no bad people in this story, only some challenging circumstances encountered by a man who is struggling to discover himself. I’m leaning toward calling this a “Man vs. Self” struggle in which the “villain” to overcome (if you could call it that) is one’s own inner limitations. Ray Liotta deserves some praise for his portrayal of a good man and a good preacher who smothers his son’s potential yet later redeems himself. Reverend Wade could have succumbed to a trite stereotype of the evil, backward southern minister, but to this film’s credit, he doesn’t.


The Identical won’t be winning any awards this year. It was a plodding, uninteresting, conflict-free, two hours of uninspiring music, dialog, and plot. There were some nice performances by veteran actors Ray Liotta and Ashley Judd. Newcomer Blake Rayne has a nice future of playing Elvis, but little else. I give The Identical just 2 out of 5 Reels.

Ryan Wade is about as dull a hero as we’ve ever seen on the big screen. There are no hard decisions or climactic surprises. I give him just 1 Hero out of 5.

And whether you think the opposition is Ryan himself, or the preacher daddy, or Ryan’s awkward situation, there aren’t any real villains to speak of. And the conflicting forces were pretty weak. I give The Identical just 1 out of 5 Villains.

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The Identical might win an award, Greg, but it would be a Razzi Award. To be honest, this film isn’t that bad, it’s just outdated. Audiences from the 1950s would be impressed by The Identical but today’s audiences demand greater sophistication in the plot, the characters, and the overarching themes of the story. There is a charming sweetness to the story but it can’t carry the plain oversimplicity of everything we see here. I agree that this film merits a score of only 2 Reels out of 5.

As I noted earlier, there is a fairly decent hero story in The Identical. Ryan Wade may be a rather simple man but he is forced to grow and develop some cajones to escape the oppressive influence of his father. It’s not a particularly inspiring hero’s journey but several key elements of the journey are in place here. A more sophisticated, updated version of the hero story might garner a higher rating but I can only muster 2 Heroes out of 5 here.

Ryan Wade encounters no villains other than himself in this movie, and so the villain rating in this film depends entirely on how we witness Ryan overcome the weaknesses that are holding him back as a character. Unfortunately, there isn’t much meat on this bone, just some flabby gristle that left me largely unsatisfied as a consumer. The paucity of interesting characters is this film’s main deficit, especially in the realm of villainy. Like you, Greg, I can only give a villain score of 1 out of 5.

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