City Paper is not for tourists
Moms can be so embarrassing. In the Errol Flynn biopic The Last of Robin Hood, the mother of teenage Beverly boasts to an acquaintance that Flynn had not only taken her then-15-year-old daughter’s virginity the day they met, but that he’d ripped her dress off because he was so, let’s say, “enchanted.” Women in the audience will surely nod in face-reddening recognition.
Wait—no they won’t. Being a vicarious star-fucker who brags about her underage kid fucking a star makes Flo (Susan Sarandon) the sexual Mommie Dearest of stage moms. That ick factor pervades the otherwise lifeless film, co-written and -directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (who also worked together on 2006’s superior Quinceañera).
Kevin Kline plays Flynn in his declining years, his successful, swashbuckling Robin Hood days behind him after alcohol and drug addictions did a number on his health and statutory rape charges tarnished his swoon-inducing reputation. But he still looked good enough to Beverly (Dakota Fanning). Even though she sort of tried to stop his advances the day he spotted her on a studio lot—and cried afterward—Beverly accepted his apology, and soon Flynn was smooth-talking Flo into the three of them spending time together, under the premise that he could jump-start Beverly’s acting career.
OK, so he claims he thought she was 18. But he didn’t really care when someone told him she was a few very important years younger. And pickup lines like “You’re like a little sprite, a wood nymph” only boost the grossness.
Why is the couple’s story worth telling? It isn’t; it’s just as featherweight and forgettable as My Week With Marilyn. Beverly was engaged to Flynn and with him when he died. (Still, Flo urged her grieving daughter to “take advantage of all the attention.”) Besides that piece of trivia, there’s nothing noteworthy here. While Fanning is charming and lovely in her period outfits and hairstyles, Kline’s performance is wan mimicry. He doesn’t exude Flynn’s sex appeal, and thus there’s zero heat between the two erstwhile lovers, even when they’re lying—ick ick ick—in bed. Sarandon has a bit more zip, but mostly because her character is often a drunken mess.
Also sparkless is the script, with Beverly’s little-seen father (Patrick St. Esprit) earning the film’s one laugh line: “Errol Flynn is a walking penis.” He’s the film’s only voice of reason, and his immediate objection to his daughter and wife going anywhere near Mr. In-Like-Flynn is refreshing. Obviously, they don’t listen, their tunnel vision trained on the Hollywood success Beverly never achieved.
Even if you acclimate to Flynn and Beverly’s age difference and suppress your gag reflex, the final scenes will rather harshly remind you that she’s still legally a child. It might remind you, too, that when Fanning was a child, she got better roles than this.
If you’re going to unabashedly model your film’s main character after a real-life rock ’n’ roll giant, you probably shouldn’t refer to said giant in the script, as if the similarities in look, style, and time period are, golly gee, just a coincidence. But the creators of The Identical don’t care about the details as much as the gist: First-time director Dustin Marcellino is the vice president of City of Peace Films, a loosely faith-based organization whose mission, per its website, is to produce works of “redeeming value” with messages of “hope, love, and encouragement.”
The God-love competes with the Elvis-love in this story of twin boys separated during the Great Depression when their cash-strapped parents send one to be raised by a barren couple, preacher Reece Wade (Ray Liotta) and his wife, Louise Wade (Ashley Judd). For most of the movie, we don’t see what happens to the boy who was, er, left behind. Instead, the script focuses on Ryan (Blake Rayne), whose adoptive father is certain his son hears the call of the church.
The call Ryan actually hears is music. He starts sneaking out to roadhouses as a 40-year-old teenager (Rayne was born in 1974), and that’s when The Identical turns into a singing version of Footloose. The night Ryan’s friend Dino (Seth Green, whose presence telegraphs the film’s quality) needles him into warbling onstage turns out to be the night the cops bust the place. “I didn’t do anything wrong, Daddy!” Ryan tells the Reverend. His retort probably came out of a Screenwriting for Dummies book: “You didn’t do anything right!”
Ryan’s parents ship him off to—where else—the Army, and when he gets out, he resigns himself to a life of delivering packages. Around the same time, however, one Drexel Hemsley (also Rayne) becomes a pretty big deal on the airwaves, leading everyone in town to tell Ryan he looks just like Drexel (ya think?) as Ryan pumps up the volume and wonders aloud, “Who…is…this?” Turns out they sing alike, too. Whoa.
What could have been an insightful reflection on nurture vs. nature is instead a highly coincidental story about fulfilling God’s plan for you, one cheesy enough to make a real Elvis impersonator wince. (Scripter Howard Klausner penned 2000’s Clint Eastwood film Space Cowboys before turning to religious fare.) Setting up Ryan’s passion for music is a belabored effort, with him mentioning in seemingly every scene how gosh durn much he loves it. So much of the film is painful, including Ryan’s (or is it Rayne’s?) horrible lip syncing; a traveling montage with a manager tossing cash into the air; a slow clap after Ryan’s audition to be crowned Best Fake Drexel, and a teeth-achingly saccharine score. Oh, and the name of Elv…I mean Drexel’s home? Dreamland.
As Ryan follows a roundabout path to success, there’s no mention of how Drexel became so big or whether the twins’ impoverished parents supported his career choice; the only battle Marcellino wants you to see is between the Lord’s call and the devil’s music. But what if the Lord gifts you with devil-music talent? If you’re looking to The Identical for an answer, you’ll first have to sit through a filmic hell on earth.
The Last of Robin Hood opens Sept. 5 at Bethesda Row Cinema and the Fairfax Angelika Film Center. The Identical opens Sept. 4 in wide release.