X-Files, The: I Want to Believe

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



X-Files, The: I Want to Believe

SCIENCE FICTION:

United States, 2008

U.S. Release Date:

2008-07-25

Running Length:

1:44

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Violence)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly, Alvin 'Xzibit' Joiner, Callum Keith Rennie, Mitch Pillegi

Director:

Chris Carter

Screenplay:

Frank Spotnitz and Chris Carter

Cinematography:

Bill Roe

U.S. Distributor:

20th Century Fox

Subtitles:

none


One would expect that the title of the second X-Files movie, I Want to Believe, reflects the hope of fans worldwide about this production. They want to believe that, even six years after the sell-by date has expired, these characters can still be relevant and showrunner Chris Carter still has worthwhile stories to tell. Sadly, such hope is misplaced. The X-Files: I Want to Believe is an exercise in mediocrity. It's curious how little of the TV series' charm and appeal can be found in this uneven, plodding excuse for a reunion. Rather than providing a springboard to a movie franchise, this film puts the final nail in The X-Files' coffin. Mulder and Scully can now fade into pop culture history.

The question of "why?" comes up several times when considering this movie. Why now? Why wait until six years after the show's 2002 finale to resurrect the characters? Interest in The X-Files has declined precipitously since then; even some former die-hards I know are lukewarm about the film. Timing has a lot to do with box office success, and the timing couldn't be worse for this project. And why tell this story? One would think that, given six years to develop a plot, Carter could have come up with something more compelling. The X-Files: I Want to Believe lacks big ideas, meaningful character interaction, and a sense of energy that a production like this badly needs to keep viewers from dozing off. And even if the sole purpose for the film is to bring back Mulder and Scully for one last hurrah, why are there so few scenes of them actually working together?

Had this storyline shown up as one episode of a 20+ episode series, it would have been dismissed as an "off week." For it to form the foundation of a major motion picture is inexcusable. The decision not to delve into the TV series' convoluted conspiracy theories is understandable, since that would alienate a large portion of the potential audience, but to proceed in this direction, making I Want to Believe a warmed-over serial killer story with supernatural overtones, boggles the mind. This is a big-time theatrical release with TV movie quality writing and production values.

I Want to Believe picks up six years after the TV series ended. Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) are living together in a secluded house, where he has grown a beard and looks like Grizzly Adams and she has become a doctor at a Catholic hospital. Neither works for the FBI any more. But when a psychic pedophile priest, Father Joe (Billy Connelly), has visions associated with a missing FBI agent, the agency wants Mulder back on the job. Reluctantly at first, he agrees, and ends up working with agents Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) and Mosley Drummy (Alvin 'Xzbit' Joiner). Their goal: use supernatural clues provided by Father Joe to locate the missing person. Scully, disillusioned about the FBI, chooses not to participate and goes back to trying to save the life of a young patient.

For many, the appeal of The X-Files lies in the chemistry between Mulder, the believer, and Scully, the skeptic. The ying-and-yang of their interaction provided the backbone of the series. It is almost entirely absent - and sorely missed - here. Also gone: any hint of sexual tension. Admittedly, since these two have stated their love for one another and are now living and sleeping together, one wouldn't expect this to be part of the equation, but it hasn't been replaced by a new dynamic, such as a loving, trusting relationship. In fact, judging by the dialogue, these two never seem to communicate, despite living under the same roof.

The film's central "mystery" is painfully underdeveloped. The pedophile priest, in addition to being a walking cliché, adds little to the proceedings, and the revelation about what lies behind the kidnappings and murders is B-grade bad. The film musters a little tension toward the end, with Mulder in peril, but that's in stark contrast to the dull and tedious 90 minutes to precede it. One keeps waiting for I Want to Believe to shift into high gear, and it never does. Do we ever believe that the characters are in danger or that their "mission" means anything? No. The film feels like an excuse for nostalgia.

The actors don't seem to care, either. Duchovny is okay, and the film was apparently made largely because he made himself available for it, but the Mulder in this film is a lot more laid-back than his TV series counterpart. Gillian Anderson claims that it was difficult for her to re-discover the character after such a long layoff, and it shows. Scully is a shadow of what she once was. Most distressingly, where these two used to play brilliantly off one another, here they never mesh, even on those occasions when the screenplay allows them to share the screen. What's the point of a reunion if the characters are going to be kept apart so much? Amanda Peet has more scenes with Duchovny than Anderson does.

The 1998 The X-Files movie, made at the height of the show's popularity, was an entertaining lark. Not being a big fan of the series, I didn't get all the in-jokes and side-references but, as science fiction films go, it was fun. And I could sense the connection between Mulder and Scully. I Want to Believe seems like it was made by another group for a different audience. As nothing more than another summer movie, I Want to Believe will be ill-accepted by viewers with little or no X-Files background; it's too derivative and generic to generate more than a shrug and an exclamation of "ho-hum." For X-Philes, the pleasure of re-connecting with old friends may not be enough to obscure how poorly those old friends are treated by the material. Aficionados of the TV show may want to believe, but after this movie, they'll have trouble keeping the faith.





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