There’s a bizarre, surreal twist at the end of The Identical, right at the climax. For now, I’ll just say this: If you’re into Odd Dwarf Characters Who Appear at the Most Unexpected Moments, then this is the movie for you.

Erin Cottrell and Blake Rayne in 'The Identical'
Image: Freestyle Releasing

Erin Cottrell and Blake Rayne in 'The Identical'

Otherwise, there’s one — and only one — reason to see the new faith-based movie The Identical, and that’s for the music. For that matter, you could just skip the theater altogether and listen to the soundtrack instead. (I’m listening to song clips as I write this review. “You Gotta Get Up,” “Burnin’ Rubber” and “Bee Boppin’ Baby” are especially good.)

Newcomer Blake Rayne plays both protagonists, the literally separated-at-birth identical twins Ryan Wade and Drexel Hemsley (more on their different last names in a moment). Rayne already had a career as an Elvis impersonator when approached for this role. Musically, that was a smart move; the scenes in which Rayne sings are by far the film’s best moments. If you like 1950s boogie-woogie rock and/or Elvis, you’ll like the music in The Identical.

But if you like good acting, well, Rayne’s not your guy. The rest of the cast includes some decent talent — like Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, and Joe Pantoliano — which only further accentuates Rayne’s limitations. But the movie has other problems, too.

First, a reasonably promising premise is never fully explored. A poor young couple, William and Helen Hemsley, has twin boys during the Great Depression and decides they can afford to care for only one of them. When they hear that Rev. Reece Wade (Liotta) and his wife Louise (Judd) are unable to have children, you can guess what happens next.

And that’s where the story starts to fall apart. The film mostly sticks with Ryan Wade — we see him growing up in a loving, churchgoing family and developing a talent for singing — but almost completely abandons the twin who was left behind, Drexel Hemsley. We later learn that Drexel has grown up to be a rock star nicknamed “The Dream,” who partly inspires Ryan’s desire to be a singer too. But we don’t learn how Drexel got there — escaping dire poverty to make it to the top of the radio charts. We also don’t learn much about Drexel’s personality or convictions . . . except that we see him drinking whiskey. Once. While brooding music plays. So, that.

Ashley Judd in 'The Identical'
Image: Freestyle Releasing

Ashley Judd in 'The Identical'

As Ryan’s singing talent develops, he starts sneaking out at night to visit a honky-tonk roadhouse, where he’s drawn to the bluesy boogie-woogie vibe at the all-black juke joint. Again, some great music. But Rayne’s portrayal of a high school kid defies all credibility — beginning with the fact that he’s forty-one years old. Um, no. Please, no. (Judd, meanwhile, is 46. The actor playing her son is 41. You do the creepy math.)

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Predictably, his preacher dad doesn’t like Ryan dabbling in the Devil’s music, and says it’s “time to grow up and be a man.” Rev. Wade is convinced his boy has missed God’s calling to be a minister. But of course, that’s the Reverend’s plan, not Ryan’s, or God’s. Ryan just wants to rock. Not in a rebellious way — he’s still a good Christian man-child — but to rock nonetheless.

The elder Wade forces Ryan to join the Army (part of that “grow up and be a man” business, you know) and then, after the military, to attend seminary. Ryan soon drops out secretly and tells his mom, “I don’t hear this call Daddy wants me to hear” and that “music is the only call I hear.” Mom encourages him to go for it, but when Dad finds out, he resorts to shaming tactics: “You’re breaking my heart, boy.”

Meanwhile, when Ryan sees Drexel “The Dream” Hemsley on TV, he says, “I can see right inside of him. I know what he’s thinking. I know what he’s gonna say, even what his next dance move’s gonna be.” He doesn’t yet know that Drexel’s his twin bro, but you can see where this story is going. Well, mostly. Except for the really weird things.

Like these:

  • There’s a brief TV news segment on the 1967 Six Day War in Israel, and then Rev. Wade exhorts his congregation to pray for Israel, “because God loves his chosen people.” That’s it. There’s no context or reason for this sudden reference to Judaism, or how the Jewish faith is a part of this story.
  • When Ryan wins a singing competition, a record label exec signs him to go on tour — as an impersonator of Drexel Hemsley, even though Hemsley is still popular. People flock to the Ryan-as-Drexel concerts, even though they can still see the real thing.
  • Weirdest of all, and as noted at the top of this review, when Ryan has a rock-bottom moment and goes to a bar and orders a whiskey (thus proving it’s a genuine “rock-bottom moment”), he is confronted and comforted by a dwarf. The little man, played by Danny Woodburn (an actor with dwarfism best known for his Seinfeld role as Kramer’s volatile friend Mickey), actually says to Ryan, “You’re lookin’ for somethin’, aren’t you? Let me give you a hint, Ryan Wade. It ain’t here. But keep lookin’. You’ll find it eventually.”
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It’s lame dialogue, yes. But you won’t really care. Because you’ll be dwelling on the fact that there was a specific filmmaking choice to have a dwarf, shorter than the barstool, suddenly appear out of thin air, just to give a pep talk to our hero at the film’s climactic moment. It’s so strange and surreal and startling, it’s as if Rhett Butler had said, “Frankly, my dear, pull my finger.” Or if Darth Vader had told Luke, “I am your father’s chiropractor.” It’s just head-shakingly odd.

Blake Rayne in 'The Identical'
Image: Freestyle Releasing

Blake Rayne in 'The Identical'

Speaking of Vader, if you really want to see a great movie about twins separated at birth, re-watch Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Or either version of The Parent Trap.

In press materials, The Identical describes itself as “a redemptive movie,” “a captivating story about a family restored, and a life discovered,” and “a drama . . . that powerfully explores two questions that constantly tug at our souls: ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What am I here for?’”

But it doesn’t answer the question that’s tugging at mine: When I hit rock bottom, will a kindly, wise, cliché-spouting, hippie dwarf come and save me too?

Caveat Spectator

The Identical is rated PG for thematic material and smoking. It’s family-friendly, but little kids would be bored.

Mark Moring, a former film and music editor at CT, is a writer at Grizzard Communications in Atlanta.

The Identical
Our Rating
1 Star - Weak
Average Rating
(21 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
Directed By
Dustin Marcellino
Run Time
1 hour 47 minutes
Blake Rayne, Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd
Theatre Release
September 05, 2014 by Freestyle Releasing
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