The X-Files: I Want To Believe (20th Century Fox, PG-13)

film_xfiles_sm.jpgWhen fans are emotionally invested in a franchise to this extent, it’s a daunting task to try to please them all.








They’re called X-Philes, devoted fans of the groundbreaking television series in the ’90s that charted the paranormal adventures of two FBI agents — obsessed believer Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and clear-minded skeptic Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). Philes tend to fall into two categories: they’re either "shippers" (those who are stirred mostly by the romantic undercurrent between Mulder and Scully) or "noromos" (those who care more about a compelling, suspenseful story). And they debate every aspect of the series and its characters.

I mention all this upfront because first of all, I’m a long-time Phile myself (the show was unmissable for me in its heyday), and secondly, the debate in online forums about the merits of I Want to Believe — the second X-Files movie made for the big screen and the first since the TV series ended in 2002 — is easily the most raucous and mind-numbing that I’ve ever seen over a film. People care about the spooky, often-complex universe that writer/director Chris Carter created in 1993, and they especially care about Mulder and Scully, vividly depicted characters who possess that mysterious thing called chemistry in spades. So when fans are emotionally invested in a franchise to this extent, it’s a daunting task to try to please them all.

Carter gives it a shot, though. IWTB takes place six years after the culmination of events in the series, when Mulder had gone on the lam from the FBI after trumped-up murder charges, and Scully sat stoically by his side at some remote desert outcrop. Cut to the present, when Dr. Scully is a respected physician at a top hospital and Mulder is a pensive recluse — not all that different from what he was, actually, except that he’s not in the FBI any longer. A perplexing case in the wintry wilds of West Virginia (actually filmed in Vancouver, the Files’ spiritual home) sends special agent Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) to seek out Mulder, known for his work on weird crime cases and stuff. A pedophile priest named Father Crissman (Billy Connolly), who may or may not have psychic powers, sees visions of a missing woman and something hidden in the icy wastelands way out yonder. With clues generated by the priest and an ultimatum to solve this case (the missing woman is another FBI agent), Whitney implores Scully to persuade her former partner in crime-solving to make himself useful again.

That’s the setup, and it’s really all you need to know about the plot. In fact, there truly isn’t that much plot — not when compared to some of the ace episodes of the TV series. Sure, there’s a sinister organization doing some bad things with body parts, and time may be running out for a certain female victim…but real suspense is surprisingly minimal in this film. What works are the two leads, especially Anderson. She gives a strong, compelling performance — the movie practically belongs to her. Carter and co-writer Frank Spotnitz have given Scully the most dramatic scenes and dialogue, and the sense of a progression in her relationship with Mulder comes through clearly, without the need for tiresome exposition.

These two are joined together on every conceivable level, though Scully steadfastly refuses to "stare into the darkness" as a steady habit again, and that leaves Mulder feeling a bit estranged. Ol’ Fox is still wily, though, still able to get that adrenaline rush from trying to shed light on the bizarre — and it almost gets him axed from the action here. Although Connolly’s okay in a serious and unsavory role, there’s not much to say about Xzibit’s role as Agent Mosley Drummy, Peet’s so-so performance, or the uncharismatic baddies. And the movie truly does play like a TV episode, not a big-screen adventure, which may disappoint less committed fans.

Don’t look for special effects, big set pieces or any major jolts. But if it’s the Mulder and Scully show you’re interested in, take heart. Duchovny and Anderson are one of the all-time greatest pairings in entertainment, and they have some wonderful moments together here (incidentally, don’t leave before the credits roll). If Carter and Co. are given the opportunity to make another XFiles movie (and the uncertain box office prospects for IWTB make that problematical), they might want to come up with a more visceral script next time, something to grab the audience and keep them riveted from scene to scene. This sequel isn’t awful; it’s got atmosphere and plenty of Mulder and Scully doing what we love best. But mostly it leaves you pining for more, and perhaps thinking you know something that Carter might’ve forgotten. I want to believe that Carter will get another chance to reaffirm the power of this legendary franchise next time out. | Kevin Renick

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