– for for thematic material and smoking.
Director: Dustin Marcellino
Starring: Blake Rayne, Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, Seth Green, Joe Pantoliano, Brian Geraghty, Chris Mulkey, Amanda Crew, Erin Cottrell, Danny Woodburn
Running Time: 1 hour, 46 minutes
Theatrical Release Date: September 5, 2014
THE IDENTICAL tells the compelling story of twin brothers unknowingly separated at birth during the Great Depression. DREXEL HEMSLEY becomes an iconic 50?s rock ‘n’ roll star, while RYAN WADE (Blake Rayne) struggles to balance his love for music and pleasing his father. The Reverend Wade (Ray Liotta) and his wife (Ashley Judd) are sure their adopted son has been gifted and called by God to be a preacher. But Ryan challenges his parent’s vision for his life, and unflinchingly chooses to launch his own music career with his best friend (Seth Green). Encouraged by his wife (Erin Cottrell) and employer (Joe Pantoliano), Ryan embarks on an unpredictable, provocative path – performing the legendary music of Drexel Hemsley in sold out venues all across the country.
As the brothers destinies tragically collide, Ryan discovers that Drexel is his identical twin which leads him to question everything he’s ever believed about God, family and his own identity.
Christian films, also often-dubbed “faith-based” films, are a tricky business. In most cases, zealous believers are working behind the scenes to piece together a motion picture that can not only inspire, but hopefully win souls for Christ. New music-driven family film The Identical isn’t exactly a “Christian film,” but the folks behind the film, including director Dustin Marcellino, set out to instill the story with Christian values without coming across as too forward or overbearing. In the end, The Identical presents Christianity in a genuine and realistic fashion, even if the story tends to lean a bit too much toward the fantastical.
What many Christian films seem to miss when it comes to making a quality production is a really good story with really good acting (not to mention a natural way of presenting the gospel). While Hollywood productions have proven time and time again that having celebrated actors in a movie doesn’t ensure great performances, The Identical is a stronger movie for having the presence of talent like Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd and Joe Pantoliano. Their acting just seems effortless, and it helps newcomer Blake Rayne step up his game in his scenes. This is Blake’s first acting gig, and while it’ll be his singing voice and music that will be talked about first and foremost before his acting talents, he still turns in a good enough performance to carry the film. He also fits the look and feel of this period film nicely–which borrows from the vibe of Elvis Presley heavily–and his voice makes the original songs in the film really pop. Rayne plays a dual role as twin brothers separated at birth, with the film’s main character being Ryan Wade. Ray Liotta plays a preacher in the film who raises Ryan and has hopes he’ll follow in his footsteps as a preacher. Meanwhile, the other brother, Drexel, becomes a nationwide musical superstar. The theme of the film is primarily about following God’s Will and His call on our lives and Liotta’s character is really the catalyst for this theme. While Liotta plays Reece Wade as a no-nonsense traditional preacher, Reece isn’t demonized either, like some films tend to do with old-fashioned preachers who can’t ever accept change and twist the Word of God to support their own agenda (um, Footloose anyone?). Liotta brings a great deal to the role of Reece, fleshing out his character in realistic and sympathetic ways. I just loved him in this. Joe Pantoliano doesn’t have a very big role, but it was nice to see him play a good guy for a change. I loved him in The Fugitive (and its so-so sequel) and have enjoyed seeing him in several films since then, but he seldom plays a nice guy. He helps brighten the scenes he’s in here.
Setting the movie during the birth of rock n’ roll, making it a period piece, is a nice touch too. The production values are very good, which only adds to the overall experience of the movie. All of the songs in the film are originals, too, which is impressive in its own right, but they’re pretty decent songs as well. The songs span several decades and different styles of music, all while supporting the theme of pursuing God’s call for Ryan’s life. The 2013 film Grace Unplugged had focused on a girl who rode the success of her one-hit-wonder father’s hit song by covering it herself, but was unable to write her own music. Her journey was a bit of a prodigal story, as she ran away from God instead of toward Him. By the end of the film, however, when she’d surrendered to God, she’s shown opening for Chris Tomlin and singing a worship cover she didn’t write. It sends a rather mixed message about what it means to serve God and the idealistic view of “if you’re a musician and you follow God, your first real gig will be opening for a Gold-record-selling Christian music mega-star.” Sure, anything is possible with God, but it felt like the story took the easy way out with an unrelatable ending. In The Identical, Ryan wants to pursue the musical gifts God had given him, but he ended up settling for making a name for himself first while covering his brother’s hit songs in concert (and he didn’t even know he’s his brother). His dream, however, was to sing his own songs live in front of an audience. And he was not wrapped up in pursuing success; he just wanted to do what he felt he was put on this earth to do – sing his own songs. Ryan’s determination is inspiring, and the fact that he never really is immature or whiney about wanting things his way, makes his story all the more endearing. He’s the underdog here, and as things don’t quite get wrapped up neatly with a bow in his life (especially regarding his biological family — which also make for some of the movie’s strongest moments), it just makes you want to see the guy succeed even more.
The content for The Identical is quite tame. Ray Liotta’s preacher character says “Oh my L-rd” at one point (upon hearing Ryan playing Drexel’s single endlessly in the house), and there’s one use of “h*ll.” There’s a little drinking in some scenes, but the main character pretty frequently does not drink when around it. There’s some mild violence that includes a cop slapping Ryan and punching him in the stomach when the cop busts up a party in a club, and a character has a heart attack while another dies in a plane crash (not seen, although we do see some news footage of the wreck). Thematically, the film is emotional, dealing with adoption, loss of family members, and tension between an adult child and his parents. It’s mostly a feel-good family film with heart, and it’s refreshing to see one as well-made as this one.
While not perfect, The Identical certainly improves up on the faith-based family film model with good music, an impressive cast for such a film, an inspiring story and good direction. The theme of pursuing God’s call on your life is a great one too, and the movie never feels preachy in its handling of faith and Christianity. It may feel the most genuine of faith-based films that I’ve seen in some time. The Identical is much better than I expected and highly recommended for fans of Elvis, classic rock, movies chock-full with music and inspiring dramas.
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 9/1/14)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: None. We see some girls in 1960s 2-piece bathing suits.
Vulgarity/Language: 1 “Oh my Lord,” 1 “h*ll”
Alcohol/Drugs: Hemsley pours himself a drink while riding in a limo; We see people smoking and drinking at a dance; Dino drinks a beer at another party; A cop busts one of these parties for weed and under age drinking; People have drinks at a banquet; We see Drexel drinking on a plane; Ryan has a whiskey in a bar. He trades it for soda and another man takes it.
Violence: A police officer slaps Ryan across the face and punches him in the stomach; Ryan collapses when a horrible event happens; A plane crashes and we hear about it on the news. We see some news footage of a burning plane wreck; A man has a heart attack and collapses; Ryan bangs his fist on a dresser in frustration.