box office the identical"The Identical" was the only new wide release movie opening this weekend, so, in the absence of competition, why didn't it do better?

The faith-based film, which follows such recent Christian-marketed hits as "Son of God," "God's Not Dead," and "Heaven Is for Real," opened on 1,956 screens and featured such brand-name actors as Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, and Seth Green. It featured a provocative premise, loosely inspired by the real-life fact that Elvis Presley had a stillborn twin brother: What if that boy had lived? And its marketplace competition consisted entirely of movies that have been out for a week or more already.

Yet "The Identical" didn't even open in the top 10. Debuting in 11th place, it earned an estimated $1.9 million (well below the $5 million that some pundits had predicted), for a weak per-screen average of just $977. Which means about eight people on average attended each screening. ("Guardians of the Galaxy," the No. 1 movie for the fourth time in six weeks, earned an estimated $10.2 million this weekend at 3,221 theaters, for a per-screen average of $3,154, so after six weeks in release, it's still earning more than three times per venue as "The Identical.")

Why didn't the faithful flock to see this movie and make it even a modest hit? Here are some possible reasons:

Inexperience. The film was made by a first-time director, Dustin Marcellino, with a first-time lead actor, Elvis impersonator Blake Rayne (real name: Ryan Pelton). It was produced by an independent studio called City of Peace, which has never made a feature film. Its distributor, Freestyle Releasing, does have a lot of independent film experience, but it's mostly with horror movies. It did generate a solid hit earlier this year with "God's Not Dead," which earned $60 million, but aside from that film, Freestyle does not have a track record marketing faith-based films. And it probably had a harder time marketing this one to churchgoers because of its...

Subject matter. The excitement of rock and roll, especially in its earliest days, is hard enough for expert filmmakers to capture on screen. In this case, it's also hard to reconcile the music's built-in rebelliousness with devoutness. The main character is a rocker who's a preacher's son, one who manages to stay happily married and avoid the road's temptations of sex and drugs. The historical Elvis, of course, was initially denounced by many Southern Christians for his lascivious dance moves and his racially-mixed music, but he overcame those objections and even recorded successful gospel albums. None of that tricky context is made clear in "The Identical," so it's hard to understand why the main characters father might object to his becoming a rock singer instead of a preacher like his old man.

Also mixed in is a pro-Zionist message -- the preacher delivers a sermon thanking God for Israel's victory in the Six-Day War in 1967, the twins turn out to be Jewish by birth, and the Elvis figure wears a Jewish "Chai" ("Life") symbol on his necklace. Now, there certainly is a strain of Baptism that supports Israel's existence as a Jewish homeland as a necessary condition for the Second Coming, but for many viewers, this combination of themes is going to be puzzling at best and alienating at worst -- especially at a time when Israel is being criticized for its military actions in Gaza.

Execution. A better movie might have explored these contradictions before reconciling them or tossing them aside, But most critics found the movie poorly done, finding fault with the direction, acting, and even the music (composed by the director's father and grandfather, Yochanan and Jerry Marcellino). Not that that should have made much of a difference, since faith-based audiences routinely dismiss reviews and assume critics have a bias against faith-message movies and wholesome entertainment in general. But even ticketbuyers weren't overwhelmingly positive about the film. It earned just a B at CinemaScore, indicating lackluster word-of-mouth.

There probably is an audience of casual Elvis fans who won't mind this watered-down version of his mythology and his music, and who are also devout Christians and pro-Zionists. But it's also probably a pretty small group. For everyone else at the multiplex, Elvis has left the building.

Photo courtesy Freestyle Releasing

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The Identical Movie Poster
The Identical
Based on 25 critics

During the Great Depression, identical twins are separated at birth. One, Drexel Hemsley (Blake Rayne)... Read More

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