THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE

PG-13
Reviews

I wanted to believe that this second X-Files movie would, like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, obliviate the memory of a dull and muddled first film based on a cult-classic TV show with pop-culture cachet and catchphrases. Alas, it seems unlikely that this franchise will reach The X-Files X. Neither suspenseful nor scary nor action-packed, it's also a poor police procedural. As one person exiting a critics' screening said, "No wonder they kept the plot so secret. There isn't one."

That's an overstatement, obviously, but what plot there is plays like a PG-13 Se7en: body parts, gruesomeness, gloom and doom, but hey, not too much, and don't worry, there's nothing deeply upsetting. You've seen deeper and darker on “CSI” and, for that matter, many episodes of "The X-Files." And despite the announced intentions of series creator Chris Carter—who directed The X-Files: I Want to Believe and co-wrote and co-produced it with one of his show's old executive producers, Frank Spotnitz—it's hard to see why anyone new to the characters would care about protagonists as thinly drawn and melodramatic as now former FBI agents Fox Mulder (an oddly bland David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (the excellent Gillian Anderson in a forcefully world-weary, emotionally overwhelmed performance).

Fans, of course, know that the two main characters are much deeper than as they appear here, and will recognize the easygoing shorthand between Mulder and Scully—who still don't use first names with each other, despite how evolved it would make their relationship seem and how fresh it'd be to our ears.

Yet everyone, X-philes and newbies alike, will wonder what the big deal is about a film kept so paranoically secret it couldn't help but to have raised expectations that David Fincher or Guillermo del Toro couldn't have met. And Carter, while an adequate director, is no such artist able to paint with colors of emotion—this, despite grimly beautiful photography by series cinematographer Bill Roe, and effective music, including interesting backward-loop effects, by series composer Mark Snow. (Not helping is sludgy editing by Richard A. Harris, who hasn't done a feature in over a decade since winning an Oscar for Titanic.)

Without giving away the genuinely cool if poorly played-out central conceit—let's just say fans of a certain Joseph Green movie will appreciate it—Mulder gets asked back in after six years to help find a missing FBI agent (Xantha Radley). Why him? Because a purportedly psychic ex-priest (Billy Connolly) helped the feds uncover a body part, and so agent-in-charge Dakota Whitney (a nothing Amanda Peet with an underdeveloped character) gets Scully—now a doctor at Our Lady of Sorrows Hospital—to find the nominally fugitive Mr. X-Files.

More body parts turn up in the Virginia and West Virginia snow, and after plot holes and preposterousness that the series at its best didn't countenance, Mulder, amid endless mid-Atlantic acres, just happens to chance onto the bad guy (Callum Keith Rennie). Crime-solving by coincidence—what a great new screenwriting shortcut!

Series characters Luther Lee Boggs and Clyde Bruckman get name-checked, a feed store is dubbed after X-Files producer-director David Nutter, and Mulder has writer-director Vince Gilligan and producer-director Rob Bowman on his cell-phone directory. An antagonist shares a last name with costume designer Lisa Tomczeszyn. Carter himself does a hospital-hallway Hitchcock cameo. All that stuff's cute, but takes you out of the film's already fragile reality and duck-rows of quick-sketch characters (except for Connolly's Father Crissman, the only three-dimensional figure here). The mundane attempt at a theme—faith in God and other supernatural things as an expression of faith in ourselves—feels simultaneously recycled and histrionic. As does, come to think of it, this X-cruciatingly un-X-ceptional X-ercise.

Rapper Alvin "Xzibit" Joiner plays a one-note grumpy agent, and Mitch Pileggi has a small, key bit reprising his series role as the bald Walter Skinner, "some FBI bigwig."