By Jared Peterson
Chris Carter, creator of the popular X-Files television series, returns us to his bizarre and convoluted world in The X-Files: I Want to Believe, the second feature film in the long-running franchise. Returning, too, are actors David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, who gamely reprise their career-making roles as Fox Mulder and Dr. Dana Scully.
Mulder and Scully saw some pretty crazy things in their years investigating the FBI’s X-Files, cases involving aliens, psychics and other paranormal phenomena. Six years after the events of the series finale, we find both characters pursuing other options. Scully, a doctor at a Catholic hospital, butts heads with her ecclesiastical superiors over the treatment of a dying child. Mulder has a little less going on. A fugitive from the FBI, he holes up in a secluded cabin, tends his “I-don’t-care” beard and clips articles on the latest news of the weird.
But when an FBI agent is kidnapped, and the only leads come from a proclaimed psychic, Mulder suddenly goes from wanted to needed. An open-minded young agent (Amanda Peet) promises amnesty in exchange for Mulder’s expertise, and Scully reluctantly agrees to bring him in. Once again they find themselves following a twisted trail of murder and conspiracy, hoping against hope that the truth is out there.
Faith and reason are major themes. The psychic is Father Joe (Billy Connolly), a disgraced priest and convicted pedophile whose “visions” may be a play to gain forgiveness from the Church. While Mulder the believer trusts the man’s power—if not the man himself—Scully the skeptic is not only unconvinced of his gifts, but seems as perplexed by his stubborn professions of faith as she is disgusted by his crimes.
It’s all fairly boilerplate for the X-Files universe and, in fact, the film sometimes feels like just another episode of the series. A meatier-than-usual episode, to be sure, as Carter takes time to further explore the emotionally charged connection between Scully and Mulder. The relationship takes some interesting turns here, and fans who followed every lingering glance in the show will probably flip their lids once or twice on this outing.
Over the years people have been drawn in by the thick air of mystery surrounding every element in the saga. Plot, back story and character are played very close to the chest, with viewers leaning in closely to catch every detail. Much like Lost—a program very much indebted to Carter’s innovations—The X-Files is about the quest for secret knowledge. But while Lost trades in hysterics as much as secrets, The X-Files can sometimes be a bit bloodless, with characters revealing little about their internal struggles.
Not that this can’t be alluring. David Duchovny’s Mulder charms with a mixture of reserve and watchful bemusement. Gillian Anderson, meanwhile, has legions of fans tantalized by the mere possibility of a crack in her stoic façade. Those fans will not be disappointed here. Scully’s ethical and emotional journey brings vulnerability, longing and passion to the fore, if only for a few key moments. The result is frankly luminous, and this is definitely Anderson’s movie.
The story involves a series of violent attacks, kidnappings and murders, some of which are dramatized in gruesome detail. Victims do not always end up in one piece. Sexual content amounts to one or two double entendres, but Father Joe’s crimes against children are a persistent subject of discussion. Profanity plays a role as well.
The X-Files: I Want to Believe is a decent mystery picture, but non-fans may tire of trying to read its poker face.
At a July 25th screening the following movies were previewed: Mirrors (R); Babylon A.D. (PG-13); Deathrace (R); Miracle at St. Anna’s (not yet rated); Lakeview Terrace (PG-13); and a teaser trailer for Saw V (R and a half). All of these carried the MPAA’s “green band” indicating that they had been approved for all audiences. For more information, visit www.filmratings.com.