What if Elvis Presley's identical twin hadn't been stillborn, but secretly given up for adoption? What if both roles were played by a real-life Elvis impersonator named Blake Rayne in a fictional biopic? Now imagine that the whole project is not just a musical fantasy but a work of religious-political propaganda, and you've got the year's weirdest movie, "The Identical."
In this telling, the hip-swiveling, high-coiffed baritone who riveted America is named Drexel "The Dream" Hemsley. Unbeknownst to him, his dirt-poor parents (Amanda Crew and Brian Geraghty) gave his twin to the Reverend Reece Wade and his barren wife, Louise (an excellent Ray Liotta and a serviceable Ashley Judd). As a result, while Drexel is rising to global stardom, the equally talented Ryan is wasting away in Bible college. Ryan falls for a local girl, Jenny (Erin Cottrell), and moonlights in a band (Seth Green is his live-wire drummer, Dino), but only after many years does he find his voice as -- what else? -- a Drexel impersonator.
Where is all this going, you ask? Good question. Howard Klausner's script, from a story by Wade Cummins, is a musing daydream that fiddles with Presley's history -- the teen movies, the Army stint -- but makes no larger point. (It also omits the late-period pill-popping and weight gain.) Playing both brothers, Rayne (born Ryan Pelton) has undeniable charisma and looks great in a 1970s shag haircut, but director Dustin Marcellino has other things on his mind. "The Identical," it turns out, is about something more than music.
Halfway through the film, themes of Judeo-Christianity drown out the rock and roll. Israel's triumph in the 1967 Six-Day War is heralded as "a modern-day miracle" by Jenny, Reverend Wade shows his support by lighting a menorah and Ryan learns that he is Jewish. That explains his Chai pendant, if nothing else. Produced by the faith-oriented media company City of Peace, "The Identical" makes sense only in the minds of its creators.
PLOT An Elvis-like rock star and a struggling musician grow up unaware they are identical twins.
RATING PG (mild violence, smoking)
CAST Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, Blake Rayne
BOTTOM LINE A weird what-if scenario made even weirder by its religious-political agenda. Real-life Elvis impersonator Rayne, however, could be a discovery.
RAY LIOTTA IS A GOOD FELLA IN ALMOST ANY ROLE
The problem with picking four of Ray Liotta's most memorable performances is that he's memorable in everything -- whether as a singing, dancing gulag prisoner in this year's "Muppets Most Wanted" or in a current tequila commercial where he doesn't even say a word.
SOMETHING WILD (1986) As the violent ex-con husband of Melanie Griffith's free spirit, Liotta in his first major film role was a terrifying sociopath oozing disarming charm.
FIELD OF DREAMS (1989) After playing the brother of a developmentally disabled youth in the little-seen but critically praised "Dominick and Eugene" (1988), Liotta impressed as the spirit of long-dead ballplayer Shoeless Joe Jackson. That's him intoning the famous voice-over line "If you build it, he will come."
GOODFELLAS (1990) Starring as real-life mobster Henry Hill, Liotta held his own opposite Robert De Niro and the supremely menacing Joe ("I'm funny how? I mean, funny like I'm a clown?") Pesci.
WILD HOGS (2007) Sure, he got critical acclaim as a police detective in "Narc" (2002). But you have to see Liotta play his menacing persona for laughs as a biker-gang leader in this ensemble comedy -- including a hilarious end-credit bit.
-- Frank Lovece