The X-Files: I Want to Believe(7/27/2008)

            In retrospect, “The X-Files” was a really innovative and influential show.  I’ve seen each and every episode of the show, which would seem to suggest I’m a huge fan, but I’m not really.  You’d never find me going to a convention or anything, but I found it to be very compelling T.V. that was always worth my time.  Stylistically it was a very slick and well produced show, Fox put some real money into the show and the various directors managed to make each episode like a cool mini horror film.  On a substance level it was one of the first mainstream shows to try to have a series arc, one that required the viewers to watch the show sequentially and keep track of what’s been going on.  Of course the good days didn’t always last and the show clearly jumped the shark somewhere around season seven where it sort of devolved into self-parody.  By the show’s end one got the feeling the writers may not have really had sort of been making the mythos up as they went (anyone accusing “Lost” of doing that better take a closer look at this show’s anti-climax).  Still, I was exited about the prospect of a new movie that would push all that mess aside and simply make a good story with the characters I loved, using the creativity that made the show famous.

            When we last left Mulder and Scully they were wanted by the government and on the run.  The movie begins a few years later and it turns out they weren’t in quite the dire condition we thought they were.  The government has apparently quit looking for the two, who are now living together in a remote rural house.  Scully (Gillian Anderson) is now working as a doctor at a catholic hospital called Our Lady of Sorrow.  Mulder (David Duchovny) however is living as a recluse of sorts and seems to spend his days researching paranormal activities in newspaper articles.  While working at the hospital Scully is approached by an FBI agent named Mosley Drummy (Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner) who brings with them a simple offer; help them with a current case and the FBI would forgive them for their previous transgressions.  This recent case involves a psychic priest named Joseph Crissman (Billy Connolly) who has been leading the FBI to a missing agent of theirs who appears to have been kidnapped by a pair of men involved in strange medical experiments.  Crissman is a convicted pedophile, a the always skeptical Scully has absolutely no patience for his psychic abilities, while Mulder thinks there may be something to what he’s doing.

            Mulder and Scully were first seen on the big screen in the 1998 film The X-Files: Fight the Future.  That film was not spectacular, but it certainly mangaged to deliver what people wanted: an elongated X-Files story brought to the big screen with a significantly larger budget allowing for at least three set pieces that could never be done on the show’s budget.  This new film, however doesn’t seem to have been given anywhere near the kind of budget “Fight the Future” was given.  As such, this is a much more character driven story than many would expect, in fact it’s almost more of a Mulder and Scully film than it is an X-Files movie. 

            The X-Files was never really an action based show, it was more about science fiction and horror, still it was about FBI Agents and as such it wasn’t really unreasonable to expect a few shootouts and chases from any given episode.   This however, feels like a very non-violent take on the X-Files formula.  In fact, I don’t think either of the lead characters so much as hold a gun throughout the duration of the film.  There’s one mediocre foot chase, and a moderately thrilling finale, but nothing like the set pieces involved in “Fight the Future.”  As such it was probably a horrible idea to release this film in the middle of summer when audiences are particularly expecting thrills.

            The film also isn’t nearly as supernatural in nature as most fans will be expecting.  This isn’t based on the shows “mythos” formula, but rather it is attempting to replicate what the show did with its stand-alone horror themed episodes.  The film has a psychic investigator and some people doing bizarre surgeries, but as far as freaks of the week go, these guys aren’t all that freaky.  In fact a lot of the material here feels more like something one would find in an episode of “CSI.”

            With no action, no science fiction, and minimal horror it would seem that the entirety of the film’s burden rests on the character driven drama.  So is the show deeper and more thematic than an average episode of the show?  Well… sort of, but I don’t think that’s going to be worth the eight-year wait for most of the show’s fans.  The film deals with the relationship between Mulder and Scully after all these years and with the lingering longing Scully feels about the son she gave birth during the show’s run (I honestly don’t even remember what ended up happening to that kid).  Ultimately it’s about Scully coming to terms with Mulder’s stubborn quest for the truth, which is reflected by Scully’s determination to save a child at her hospital. 

            This is ultimately more Scully’s movie than it is Mulder’s and in turn Gillian Anderson has a lot more to do here than Duchovny.  Duchovny mostly delivers the same performance one would expect given his track record on the show, he’s a little more morose, but it’s mostly more of the same from Duchovney, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Anderson on the other hand is portraying a much-changed character.  This is a Scully that has gone through so much and has become almost completely drained, but Anderson doesn’t overplay this.  These are both very sad characters, one gets the notion that their lives have really been ruined by their work with the FBI; in this sense the movie is sort of a downer, as a fan of the show I feel these characters really deserve some peace and there’s nothing like that to be found here. 

            The supporting cast is nothing to write home about.  Amanda Peet is a good actress but she’s on complete autopilot here.  I didn’t expect much from Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner, mainly because he’s a third rate rapper, but he was average enough.  Billy Connolly, was a little more interesting, mainly because of his very weird Scottish accent.  What’s a Scottish pedophile doing in West Virgina?  I don’t know, but I still think he created a fairly good character with his performance.

            The X-Files: I Want to Believe isn’t really a bad movie; it’s just not a good movie, at all.  If this was made as a T.V. movie or direct to DVD it would be perfectly satisfactory, but that’s not what this is, it’s a theatrical movie ten years in the making.  Chris Carter has made a movie that mostly stands up to scrutiny, but will satisfy few.  It just isn’t the X-Files movie the fans wanted, it wasn’t the X-Files movie that would attract non-fans, and it certainly isn’t the X-Files movie I wanted.

** out of Four

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