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Review: New film doesn't live up to potential

Musician bio films carry a certain fascination. There’s just something about getting a glimpse into the lives of the rich and famous before they found themselves at the top. Fan favorites include “Ray,” “Dreamgirls” and “Walk the Line.” Each were powerful and memorable movies. As an imitator in every sense of the word, “The Identical” falls just short of its genre counterparts.

The premise is one of fiction. What if Elvis Presley’s identical twin brother had lived? But what if he had also been adopted and raised by another family without the other knowing, and while Elvis achieved his fame, the brother makes his way as an Elvis impersonator. The names have been changed — and there’s even a reference to Elvis at one point — but the film progresses fairly straight along this line.Photo Credit: SUBMITTED - New movie - Real-life Elvis impersonator Blake Rayne (also known as Ryan Pelton) plays Ryan Wade/Drexel Hemsley in the new film ‘The Identical.' The movie opens Sept. 5.

“The Identical” starts with a brief intro to the famous brother Drexel Hemsley (played by Ryan Pelton, who actually worked as an Elvis impersonator). Soon after he’s seen in 1972 in a limo driving through a cotton field, the plot flashes back to 1935 when he was born and the story begins. This initial flashback is often used for this sort of film, but here it’s rushed and is more confusing than insightful.

The film reveals how the brothers were separated and focuses more on the adopted brother, Ryan. Taken in by a reverend (Ray Liotta) and his wife (Ashley Judd), Ryan is encouraged to follow in his father’s religious footsteps but can’t shake his musical inclinations. This causes some friction in the happy family while brother Drexel begins to rise to fame, although there really is no focus on his life aside from hints at an alcohol addiction, and depression.

There’s nothing really wrong with the film, but it’s clear it could have been better. Among the many musical scenes, it’s about halfway through when something standout occurs. Ryan competes as a finalist in a 1960s radio station contest searching for “The Identical,” for Drexel “The Dream” Hemsley. Ryan gives an outstanding performance and his best yet impersonating his unknown twin. Drexel appears unannounced just in time for Ryan’s performance and with a nod of approval for his brother, slinks out. Unfortunately, this pseudo meeting is the only encounter the pair will make and the film resumes without acknowledging the characters’ pasts.

Truly a standout is Liotta as the Rev. Reece Wade. It’s not often Liotta depicts a softer character, but his portrayal of a loving father who simultaneously wants his son to continue in his footsteps is on point. Especially for the times, his character is progressive when it comes to racial matters and is often more interesting than Ryan’s attempt to find himself.

Overall, there’s still a few jarring issues — such as the actors supposedly playing underage teens and then appearing as their 30-year-old selves — but it’s just a story about finding yourself and your destiny, with a dash of Elvis mixed in. It may not be memorable, but “The Identical” is at least entertaining. The film opens Sept. 5.

Contract Publishing

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