IT'S OFFICIAL: The sudden synergy between commercial Christianity and Hollywood materialism has gotten weird. I wandered into a press screening for The Identical knowing next to nothing about it, which turned out to be a bit like taking mushrooms and wandering into a clown college audition.
How should I prepare you for this experience? Basically, imagine if Tommy Wiseau from The Room was an evangelical Elvis impersonator who made a batshit, royalty-free vanity biopic about a Christian not-Elvis starring himself. As twins.
I know, right?
Maybe it makes more sense if I tell it from the beginning. The Identical was directed by Dustin Marcellino, and produced by a number of fellow Marcellinos. Closest I can tell, the Marcellino family—heirs to a presumably lucrative musical legacy begun by Dustin's grandfather, Jerry, who wrote songs for the Jackson 5—now control a Christian music empire begun by Dustin's Israeli father, Yochanan. At some point, the Marcellinos hooked up with Ryan Pelton, the "world's number one Elvis impersonator," and decided that Pelton would stop impersonating Elvis and become "Blake Rayne," Zionist Christian rock superstar, and that his coming-out party would be The Identical, a dual royalty-free Elvis biopic and Christian rock origin story (!!!). Ironic, considering the Marcellino fortune was partly built on royalties.
Of course, that's just the backstory. What actually makes it to the screen in The Identical is a strangely genericized Elvis: Origins with a separated-at-birth twist. Blake Rayne, every bit as unctuous as his gay pornstar stage name suggests, with creepy jet-black Dracula hair, plays the dual roles of Ryan Wade and Drexel Hemsley, identical twins born to poor sharecroppers during the Depression. Helmsley's parents give one son away to a childless traveling minister named Wade (played by Ray Liotta and his scary permanent eyeliner), and raise the other as his rock sensation doppleganger. The movie follows the given-away son Ryan Wade through his life under the thumb of his minister father, until he eventually becomes the world's most sought-after Drexel Helmsley impersonator. Get it?! Blake Rayne plays the dual facets of himself. BRAAAAAHM.
Incidentally, some of the not-Elvis songs written for this real-life Jackie Jormp-Jomp include: "Bee Boppin' Baby," "Nashville Tonight," and "Boogie Woogie Rock 'n' Roll." Trust me: Christianized Elvis music is every bit as saccharine and uncomfortable as that sounds.
As strange a discovery as The Identical was, and as nauseatingly schmaltzy as it is, I can't rail against it the same way I would, say, Heaven Is for Real, or Ja Rule's I'm in Love with a Church Girl (both of which I sat through, Jesus help me). Those films sell the persecutionist and shallow materialist facets of fundamentalist Christianity, respectively. In a much kinder, gentler way, The Identical sells genericized religion the same way it sells genericized rock 'n' roll: It's uncomfortable to sit through, certainly, but the main thrust of its spiritualism is inclusion, like respect for Jews (the Marcellinos are part Israeli expats, remember) and black people.
Early on, it was clear The Identical had the potential to be a best/worst cult classic in the vein of The Room or Birdemic. I think we enjoy these movies because there's an idiosyncratic clumsiness to them that, especially in this case, comes from an innocent place, like watching a puppy keep bumping his head on his water dish. Only in this case, the puppy is Christian Elvis.
Oh, and Seth Green is in it. Yeah.