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The Identical

The Identical is a work of genius. Stunted, insane, single digit IQ genius, but warped, weird, where-is-Mystery-Science-Theater-3000-when-you-it genius nonetheless. This is a film that is so shameless, so bad in its fictionalized what-if premise, that you have to marvel at the kind of mind that could dream it up. In essence, take the whole “Elvis had a twin” tale and meld it to a faith-based message with some oddball references to Israel, and you’ve got only part of this misguided movie’s magic. Tommy Wiseau and his warped The¬†Room only wish they were are consistency peculiar as this future cult creation.

It’s the Great Depression, and as we are told, no time to get married and raise a family. Sure enough, our young lovebirds (Brian Geraghty and Amanda Crew) get hitched anyway, get knocked up, and head down to the employment capital of the economically depressed U.S., Redneckville, Alabama. There, she gives birth to strapping twins boys while he wrings his hands in “how will I feed them?” melancholy. One night, our unfortunate father goes to a tent revival. There he meets Rev. Reece Wade (Ray Liotta) and his childless wife Louise (Ashley Judd). One plot contrivance leads to another and, sure enough, our put-upon parents decide to give one of their baby boys over “to God.”

Fast forward a few years and the Reverend is trying to get his pesky, no account son Ryan (Elvis lookalike Blake Rayne) to stop frequenting honkytonks with his pal Dino (Seth Green) and take up “The Calling.” Sonny boy doesn’t want to go to Bible College. Instead, he wants to rock… just like his idol, Drexel Hemsley (Rayne as well). You see, the boy left behind with the sad family grew up to be the second-in-line King of Rock ‘N’ Roll, and everyone thinks Ryan is just as talented. One night, with his new wife Jenny’s (Erin Cottrell) blessing, he enters a Drexel impersonation contest. He wins, is picked up by a slick promoter (Waylon Payne), and gets packaged as “The Identical.” And then things get really manufactured and overly melodramatic.

Good gravy is The Identical bizarre. With its fascination with both Christianity and Judaism, it’s reconfiguration of how rock music began, and its hokey hit parade knockoffs, you can’t tell whether it’s being excessively earnest or just pulling your leg. The script, by Space Cowboys’ co-scribe Howard Klausner, doesn’t miss a single soap opera clich√©. But just when you think you have it figured out, the narrative drops a bombshell (“…and then the War began”) only to twist that telegraphed moment up into a ball of blatant surrealism (the film is referencing the Six Day War in the Middle East, of all things). A sequence where we see Drexel doing the “Elvis in the Movies” thing also goes goofy, as the song used is such a melodic downer you’d swear our star was singing about a beached whale, not a surfing good time.

Apparently, this is all some manner of propaganda for the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, a film meant to inspire a renewed believe in God and to strengthen one’s lagging faith in these troubling times. But just like all movies made with such a strategy as its subtext, everything is forced and sold via sledgehammer. Each problem here is instantly fixed by a healthy dose of the Good Book and an occasional reference to the Menorah. Indeed, thanks to the MJAA’s involvement, we are reminded over and over again about the Jewish people’s place in God’s kingdom, leading to a moment when Ray Liotta’s preacher actually pulls out the “Chosen People” label. Seriously? In 2014?

From watching former Oscar nominees destroy their career goodwill to wondering how someone like Family Guy/Robot Chicken‘s Seth Green got talked into this camp craptacular, The Identical is a brain bender. It’s either the purest expression of cinematic overreaching ever, or just pathetic.

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