Sunday, August 5, 2012

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

One of the lasting emotions I held following the series finale was a sense of literal bewilderment, confused by the decisions Chris Carter made and wondering why he would end his own series the way he did. Presumably he was intending to follow up those lingering questions in a movie, a movie-sized budget making the anarchic spectacle of that 2012 alien invasion even more vivid. I originally watched I Want to Believe in theaters, having not seen the last couple of X-Files years and unaware of how it left the characters, and believed it was pretty underwhelming but generally fine. But what I didn't experience was a sense of confusion. Watching it again, now with knowledge of where the characters ended up in the series itself, I'm very much bewildered by it.

I Want to Believe immediately pushes the reset button. Vague references are made to Mulder and Scully's time on the run, but the sequel opens with Scully operating at a Catholic hospital, and Mulder having become something of a hermit in a shack somewhere. Neither of them seem to be on the FBI's radar anymore, and no mention is made of the thin revelations in The Truth. Instead it's a pretty generic procedural thriller.

Granted, you could understand if FOX requested something breezy and simplistic, as they'd naturally want to lure in big audiences instead of making a $30 million sequel just for the hardcore fans. But I Want to Believe isn't even a throwback to those classic X-Files horror stories, let alone an intriguing standalone mystery. What it is is a cop thriller with subtle hintage of things remotely supernatural. Sure, there are psychic priests and Frankenstein surgery, but it's almost like everything legitimately 'X-Files' was removed after the first draft. It's just a strange decision, the result being a movie lacking in any fun or spookiness, only drab stand-offs and clumsy narrative coincidences.

I guess there's some appeal to seeing Mulder and Scully spend the whole movie being so intimate with each other, particularly when it's treated so casually for once. While the series constantly danced around the subject of romantic love between the two of them, I Want to Believe nicely positions the two agents as slightly wounded, middle-aged partners. They may be harried and vulnerable, but the love and emotional attachment is still there, only it's now actually overt and expressive.

But everything else is pretty unfortunate. Billy Connolly impresses as a pedophile priest, but his vague psychic proclamations to Scully and her sleepy subplot with the dying child feel like abandoned material from one of those flat 'religious Scully' episodes of yesteryear. Amanda Peet and Xzibit are in exposition mode throughout, Peet's notoriety as an actress strong enough to make you question why Frank Spotnitz and Chris Carter decided to kill her character before she actually did anything of note. Skinner's appearance, while nice in theory, feels like fan-service.

That's actually the major problem with the movie. It's almost like Chris Carter assumed it was good enough to just have these actors back again, thinking the fans would be satisfied enough by the very presence of Mulder and Scully, to ignore the fact that there's very little purpose for them to even be around. It's one of those strange movies that feels entirely inconsequential. Only the neat Bush gag feels at all relevant. Long-term fans are unlikely to be impressed, and new audiences would likely find it a drag, especially in an era where generic, occasionally well-written serial killer stories can be found on any average night on network television.

I Want to Believe is a total non-event. There are some minor moments of interest, but this is not a movie with any definitive purpose. After that deflating blimp of a series finale, this was an unexpected opportunity to tell a story that was finite and powerful. But it's really not. It's just... there. A sigh, a soft echo -- something you catch in the corner of your eye that you know, somewhere deep down, you once had a lingering fondness for. You appreciate it for a second or two, then you keep on walking. And it slowly fades into nothingness. D

David Duchovny (Fox Mulder); Gillian Anderson (Dana Scully); Amanda Peet (Dakota Whitney); Billy Connolly (Father Joseph Crissman); Alvin "Xzibit" Joiner (Mosley Drummy); Mitch Pileggi (Walter Skinner); Callum Keith Rennie (Janke Dacyshyn); Adam Godley (Father Ybarra); Nicki Aycox (Cheryl Cunningham)
Writers Frank Spotnitz, Chris Carter Director Chris Carter

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