by Dan Persons
What I wanted to believe was that, despite conventional wisdom, one could go home again. What I wanted to believe was that a creative team, given six years to look back and rediscover the passion they once had for a project, would be able to channel that passion into something that would remind us of the best those people have to offer. What I wanted to believe was that the thrill was still there, and the fun.
THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE doesn’t completely shake that faith, but it doesn’t go far enough to affirm it, either. Lacking the elephantiasis of the last, big-screen incarnation, FIGHT THE FUTURE, the newest film still seems an odd fit for the big-bang-boom summer season, but at least provides evidence that those involved — including Chris Carter directing (and co-writing with Frank Spotnitz), and David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson reprising their roles as paranormal investigators Fox Mulder and Dana Scully — recognize that story and personal interaction matter far more in this universe than massive scale and million-dollar effects.
Unfortunately, they may have gone more small-bore than was absolutely necessary. The story, driven by the disappearance of an FBI agent and leading to a revelation that wouldn’t have felt out-of-place in the Weekly World News zaniness of the show’s initial seasons, might have been a comfy fit for a forty-five minute episode, but gets nowhere near to carrying the weight of a full-length feature. To compensate, focus is turned more towards character byplay, and here the decision was made to go for the melodramatic ponderousness of the series’ latter years: Mulder obsesses over his missing sister — although it feels like so much lip-service in this case — while Scully gets to unpack her Catholic guilt onto both a B-story child dying of an incurable disease and a convicted, pedophile priest (Billy Connolly) whose psychic abilities are being employed by the FBI. Where the film should dash, it instead gets bogged down in dramatics that do very little to inform the key mystery.
Minor compensation comes in the form of considerable screen time for Duchovny and Anderson — they both remain fine actors, and the chemistry between them is as palpable as it was fifteen years ago. Behind the lens, Carter uses the story’s snow-bound, West Virginia settings to demonstrate he has few equals when it comes to conveying bleak. Whether it’s a swatch of stark white intersected solely by the line of an FBI search team, or a nighttime snowstorm highlighted in the beams of a car’s headlights, it’s enough to make one nostalgic for the show’s halcyon, Vancouver days. (Additional trips down memory lane come in the form of numerous, covert call-outs to original series stalwarts — keep an eye out for the store labeled Nutter’s Feed & Grain.)
One of the main themes of I WANT TO BELIEVE — as stated in that subtitle — is our capacity rediscover our faith, our willingness to believe in the best for ourselves and for others. A corollary can be drawn for the film itself: Carter & Co. haven’t quite cleared the bar on this outing, but have shown that they recognize what made THE X-FILES such a great ride to begin with. If they can retap the recklessness and enthusiasm that characterized the show’s early years, this may yet become a franchise worthy of a long and lucrative life. That this team is capable of such a goal, I have no problem believing.
THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE (Twentieth Century Fox, 2008; 104 mins.) Directed by Chris Carter. Cast: David Duchovny; Gillian Anderson; Billy Connolly; Amanda Peet; Xzibit.
Photos: TM and © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.