X-Files, The: I Want To BelieveReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 07/25/08 00:00:00
While watching “The X-Files: I Want to Believe,” the second big-screen incarnation of the cult classic TV series that launched countless numbers of lame knock-offs, expensive DVD box sets and slash fiction stories involving its heroes in any number of situations that were clearly not fit for the small screen (despite being on Fox), I found myself thinking about another show with a similar background and following, “Star Trek,” fared in its journey into the multiplexes. It kicked off, you will recall, with 1979’s “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” a fairly lugubrious effort that, although not without its merits (especially in the re-edited version prepared for DVD by director Robert Wise a few years ago), wasn’t really embraced by anyone outside of the show’s more ardent fans, who were primed to celebrate any movie with the words “Star Trek” in the title. Over the next 23 years, there would be nine follow-up movies (not counting the J.J. Abrams revamp that is currently scheduled for release next summer) and while they started off with a bang (1982’s “The Wrath of Khan” remains one of the most entertaining sci-fi adventures of the 1980’s and 1986’s “The Undiscovered Country” was an engaging fish-out-of-water story that cleverly found a story that would simultaneously satisfy Trekkies and newcomers alike), they soon began to become forced and repetitive and by the time the last couple of films, 1998’s “Insurrection” and 2002’s “Nemesis,” came along, the storylines were tired and listless, the actors were clearly just going through the motions and even the most devoted fans were hard-pressed to think of anything positive to say about them. By comparison, it appears that “The X-Files” has managed to cover that entire spectrum in only half the time and one-fifth of the effort--the 1998 big-screen debut “The X-Files: Fight the Future” was a fairly lugubrious effort that, although not without its merits, wasn’t really embraced by anyone outside of the show’s most ardent fans, who were primed to celebrate any movie with the words “X-Files” in the title and with this follow-up, we now have a bore of a film with a storyline that is tired and listless and actors who are clearly just going through the motions in the service of a film about which even the most devoted fans of the series will be hard-pressed to come up with anything positive to sayThe film kicks off as an FBI agent is abducted from her West Virginia home by a couple of mysterious strangers. Soon after her disappearance, the agency receives a call from Father Joseph Crissman (Billy Connolly), a former pedophile Catholic priest who claims to have had visions about the abduction and leads investigators to a severed arm buried in the snow in a remote lot. The information is good--too good--and so the agent in charge of the case, Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet), who was presumably conceived during an especially eventful architectural tour of New York City, decides that the only way to determine whether Father Joe’s visions are on the up and up is to call in Fox Mulder (Duchovny), the agent who used to be in charge of such paranormal cases until his division was scuttled and he became a wanted man. To get to Mulder, the agency calls in his former partner, the logical and pragmatic Dana Scully (Anderson), who is also long gone from the FBI and who is now a doctor specializing in adorable children with terrible diseases that can only be cured with a risky and unproven procedure that no one but her is convinced will work. Amazingly, it takes Scully maybe three seconds to convince Mulder that the FBI’s offer of a clean slate in exchange for his help is genuine (of course, if she can’t, the movie is over in 15 minutes--an excellent suggestion given what happens in the remaining 90 or so).
At this point, I am pretty much torn as to how much else about the plot I should reveal. On the one hand, I suppose that I should pretty much clam up in order to preserve whatever surprising twists and turns there might be for the rabid fanatics to enjoy. On the other hand, if I do go into a little more detail, the full scope of just how lame and slapdash the whole enterprise is will become all the more clear. While I won’t go into too many specifics, I will note that the credibility of Father Joe’s visions gets a boost when he not only discovers information relating to another victim but tops off that trick by crying tears of blood. I will also observe that the case inspires many debates between Mulder and Scully about their varying views on the topic of faith that deploy the film’s subtitle with roughly the same frequency that the name “Wall Street” was utilized in the film of the same name. I will also point out that while the first film delved deeper into the vast and unfathomable conspiracy that provided the overriding story arc for the series, this is a straightforward and stand-alone story that eschews all of that, though what it does come up with is so inexplicable, incoherent and borderline offensive (not in a good way) that you may find yourself hoping against hope that little green men are behind what is going on after all.
At this point, I should probably note that during the show’s extended run on television, my total exposure to the phenomenon added up to maybe five or six episodes, the feature film and a visit to a local “X-Files” convention held a few weeks before the release of the film when the show was arguably at the height of its popularity. As a result, I don’t claim to be an expert in the subtle nuances of the show but I think that even at those meager levels of viewership, I am able to understand what it was that made it so popular with people--the heady and terrifying thrills of the stand-alone episodes, the complex and ever-expanding nature of the show’s mythology (remember this was at a time when most shows did not have a complex backstory that viewers had to be clued into in order to even vaguely understand what was going on) and the appealing relationship that developed over the course of the series between Mulder and Scully. You would think that since another film version would pretty much have to be tailor-made for the fans whose appreciation for the show has not ebbed a bit since it left the airwaves (everyone else is too busy trying to make sense out of the likes of “X-Files”-influenced shows as “Lost” and “Heroes”), it would try to tell a story that would focus on at least some of these elements.
And yet, the story that Carter and co-writer Frank Spoonitz have come up with feels less like a true “X-Files” adventure and more like a collection of half-baked ideas stitched together into a half-assed Frankenstein’s Monster of a screenplay in which none of the pieces fit together very well. The mystery as a whole is not very interesting and when the truth about who is responsible for the heinous crimes and what they hope to achieve is revealed, the results will inspire incredulous laughter instead of chills--in the ten years since the first film and six years since the ending of the series, couldn’t Carter and Spoonitz have come up with something slightly more interesting than a plot that suggests what “They Saved Hitler’s Brain” might have been like in the hands of Andy Milligan? The major new characters are complete non-entities--the FBI agents played by Peet and Xzibit, are clones of Mulder and Scully that seem to have been developed to serve as stand-ins if Duchovny and/or Anderson decided not to return and who inexplicably never hit the cutting-room floor once they did sign on and while Connolly does have a couple of good moments here and there, his character is too confused and confusing to make much of an impact. The villains and the victims are both complete ciphers and as a result, it becomes impossible to work up any degree of fear for the former or sympathy for the latter. The chief subplot, in which Scully valiantly battles the administrators at the hospital that she works at to allow her to try a radical new treatment on a dying child, is cheesy soap opera at its worst and is painfully irrelevant to the proceedings. And quite frankly, the entire thing has the look and feel of a chintzy direct-to-video item instead of a honest-to-goodness feature film--a real shock when you consider that the show itself maintained, based on the few episodes that I have seen, a fairly fluid and cinematic feel on a weekly basis.However, the biggest problems with “The X-Files: I Want to Believe,” not to mention the biggest disappointments, are the shamefully lackluster performances from Duchovny and Anderson in the roles that made them stars and the complete lack of demonstrable chemistry between them. Although much of the success of the show was due to the palpable on-screen chemistry between the two performers, it became evident as the show went on and on that they were become less and less enchanted with the whole thing and both would eventually depart from the show before it finally concluded its run. By signing up for this film, one might expect that they had found a way to recapture the spark that they brought to the early days of the series but right from the start of this film, they each seem so disinterested in the proceedings that you may find yourself hoping that Annabeth Gish and Robert Patrick will eventually pop up to perk things up a little bit. Of the two, at least Duchovny makes a token effort to liven things up here and there with his extra-dry line readings and scores the film’s biggest intentional laugh when it is revealed that he and Scully are entering a dormitory populated entirely by pedophiles and drolly suggests that they avoid the activities room. However, Anderson (whose post-Scully career has included a magnificent performance in Terrence Davies adaptation of Edith Wharton’s “The House of Mirth” and a funny cameo as herself in Michael Winterbottom’s “Tristram Shandy”) is absolutely awful--throughout the film, she comes across as shrill, strident and deeply unpleasant. Just by looking at her grim and haggard appearance throughout, it is fairly obvious that she would rather have been doing anything other than appear in this film and by the time that it finally and mercifully comes to an end, I daresay that there will be very few people remaining in the audience who won’t be feeling pretty much exactly the same way.
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