Christian Zionist Elvis Drama Sees Poor Reviews and Box-Office Takings

From the Hollywood Reporter:

Faith-based Elvis musical drama The Identical bombed at the North American box office, falling outside the top 10 with $1.91 million. The independent movie cost more than $32 million to make and market.

Identical is playing in 1,956 theaters. If the theater count was rounded up, its debut would mark the third-worst opening of all time for a film playing in 2,000 or more locations, not accounting for inflation…

The story concerns not Presley himself, but rather a fictional “Drexel Hemsley” character whose twin brother is adopted by a Tennessee preacher played by Ray Liotta.

The film currently has 53 “rotten” reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, versus just two “fresh” positive assessments. And the positive reviews damn with faint praise: the Hollywood Reporter itself describes the film as “passably palatable”.

The film has, however, been heavily promoted by Drew Zahn at WND. In a piece last week, Zahn described it as a “Hollywood Hit”, and highlighted a scene set in 1967 in which Ray Liotta, playing a Tennessee preacher, urges support for Israel during the Six-Day War:

Liotta’s character tells his 1967 congregation why the war a world away is so important: “What does that have to do with the Christian church in the state of Tennessee? Everything! It has to do with everything! We are commanded by the Word of God to give Him no rest from our prayers. For who? Today for Israel. If we love God we must love what God loves, and God loves his chosen people!”

The article includes an embedded video, in which executive producer Yochanan Marcellino (the director’s father) expands portentously on the same theme:

…It is our responsibility now as it was then [in 1967] for Zion’s sake, not to be silent. We are commanded in Scripture to give God no rest from our prayers for Israel. I encourage you to hear God’s heart for his chosen people, and the miracle he performs for Israel during the Six-Day War.

Alas, however, Zahn’s follow up piece on the “Hollywood Hit” is less up-beat: under the headline “Christians Sabotage Gospel in Hollywood”, the author rebukes Christians for failing to support the film, and warns that the church needs to “get serious about culture war”:

The moviemakers spent tens of millions marketing this film – a budget most Christian movies could only dream about – through churches, Christian radio and other key outlets. The movie stars big Hollywood names like Ashley Judd, Seth Green and Ray Liotta… It also delivers a profoundly Christian message in the context of a story that you don’t have to be a pew-sitter to love.

In other words, it’s just the kind of film that could take Christ outside the church walls. All it needs to succeed and to see more films like it made, to see the candle become a blaze in our culture, is for Christians to go see it. That’s it.

But even Zahn is forced to concede that the film “has some flaws”.

The film is produced by City of Peace Films, of Nashville. Marcellino also has an associated company, City of Peace Media, which in 2012 brought together various Christian singers for a CD called iStandforIsrael (tagline: “for love of God and country”).

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