THE IDENTICAL. I've sat through more than a few bad movies, many of them in the theater, mostly in the last four years. I don't like disliking movies. I love the form, and I'll give anything a chance. In almost every case, I can find at least one element, infinitesimal though it may be, to redeem or at least salvage the experience. Not so with The Identical, which can really only be enjoyed or appreciated ironically. This was, bar none, the nadir of my movie going — the worst experience I've ever had in a theater.
In Great Depression-stricken central Tennessee, a no-luck couple welcomes twin boys into their hardscrabble existence. Dad can't find work and, after hearing the lamentations of a childless tent-show preacher (Ray Liotta), decides that he ought to give the poor guy one of his babies. Reverend Reece Wade and his missus Louise (Ashley Judd) raise the boy as their own, grooming him for a life in the ministry. Meanwhile, across the state somewhere, his doppelganger, Drexel Hemsley (Blake Rayne), climbs out of the cotton fields, eventually etching his name into the popular consciousness as a pop star. Little old Ryan Wade (Rayne, again) is also passionate about music, but the influence of his parents, a stint in the army and other factors steer him away. At least until he wins a Drexel sing-alike contest and starts a career as a touring impersonator, and a misconceived movie turns fencepost dumb. The separated brothers never meet, and Ryan's adopted parents hide the truth of his origins from him. At least until he discovers a letter from his biological father in the third act (a revelation that provokes a wail from Liotta that very nearly had me laughing out loud). Spoiler alert (can this be spoiled further?): Drexel dies before his time. Ryan, having hung up his showman's cape, meets his bio-dad at his brother's gravesite, which is apparently supposed to bring some sort of closure to both men, but offers none to the audience. Fake-Drexel takes the act back on the road, and we close with him performing terrible pop songs to an adoring throng.
The Identical, were it not for the unflappable, misplaced sincerity, could almost be an elaborate joke. It's so close to self-parody that a shot-for-shot remake in the hands of a talented comedy director — David Wain, say, with Ken Marino in the lead — could be one of the funniest movies ever made. Instead, it is insipid pablum unfit for human consumption. I'm stretching to give credit for its humanistic theme, which I think is supposed to be that we should all follow our passions and also act like Jesus Christ whenever possible. That's hardly the basis for daring art, though, and doesn't really merit nationwide distribution.
Among the many dumbfounding realities of this thing: Joe Pantoliano as Avi Hirshberg, a Jewish mechanic from Brooklyn who has inexplicably relocated to that haven of integration and acceptance, the American South in the 1960s. His shoehorned-in presence is intended as comic relief, but only serves as springboard into some out-of-nowhere pro-Israel flag waving. Also, none of the music sounds like it was, or even could have been, recorded in the time period of the story. And the lyrics are almost as uninspired as the dialogue.
I decided to forgo my usual second quad-espresso before I walked into the theater, and it's a good thing. Even un-enhanced, The Identical was so irritating that I had to fight the impulse to squirm in my seat like a frustrated toddler or sprint for the exit. There was a solid 10-minute stretch where I amused myself by planning the construction of a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. That bad. PG. 107m.
— John J. Bennett
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