X Files, The: I Want to Believe

Part supernatural thriller, part serial killer procedural, part medical expose, and part relationship melodrama, but not satisfying on any of these levels, "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" is a disappointing film that will frustrate avid aficionados of the landmark TV series and may not bring many new recruits to the theaters either.

A follow-up to "The X-Files: Fight the Future," which was made ten years ago and was not very good either, the new, stand-alone feature is old-fashioned in both the positive and the negative senses of this term.

The best thing about the film is Gillian Anderson, who gives a truly commanding, fearlessly intelligent performance in a thriller that strains logic and credibility throughout the yarn, and in the last reel literally asks audiences to suspend total disbelief, thus reinforcing the picture's title's "I Want to Believe."

You really need to believe in "something" to accept the premise and narrative of this fractured feature that cuts abruptly from one subplot to another–often at the wrong moments. It also doesn't help that the picture moves along at a lethargic pace (with too many pauses) for a suspenser, and also lacks the visual and technical thrills one would expect from a studio picture made these days.

Which means that, despite the title, Fox did not believe in the project and thus allocated a smaller budget than the norm, or that the movie was lensed and done quickly and shabbily. If you didn't know the credits of the creators, you would think that "I Want to Believe" was made by tyros or amateurs; for the most part, it's poorly shot and choppily edited.

Whether it was conscious or not on the part of the filmmakers, director Chris Carter, the creator of the phenomenally popular, award-winning series who co-penned the script with Frank Spotnitz, it's the lovely Anderson who occupies the center of the yarn as Dana Scully, reuniting with her long-time partner David Duchovny, who plays a considerably smaller part as Fox Mulder.

Reportedly, the specific plot has been kept under wraps, known only to top studio brass and the principal actors. The film is set in "real time," that is, six years after the TV series finale when we last saw Scully and Mulder, during which the personalities and dynamics of the duo's relationship has changed. Periodically, each one is saying, as if to remind us and convince themselves, "I am not the same person anymore," because we know that old habits die hard and they may repeat the same behavioral patterns–and human mistakes.

The story begins rather promisingly with a nocturnal sequence, set in a snowy West Virginia town, and the capturing of a young, innocent woman by a creepy man driving a tractor. Meanwhile, hundreds of FBI agents are following Father Joseph Crissman (Billy Connolly), a strange psychic, sporting long white hair and thick glasses, who tries to illustrate his visions and redeems his shady past by taking the agents to the scene of the crime.

Former agent Scully, now a successful and passionate physician is all immersed in a new case of a young boy suffering from a rare disease and is about to be moved to a hospice against her wishes and desperate efforts to find some treatment quickly. Under the influence of the bureaucratic Father Ybarra (Adam Godley), the hospital's staff has already accepted his recommendation and the boy's parents are about to be swayed, too. (Later on, there is a quiet, nicely acted scene in a church, when the desperate Scully, running out of ideas and time, tries to persuade the folks).

We eagerly wait to the first meeting between Mulder and Scully, and indeed, it occurs when Scully tries to enlist the now-reluctant, bitter man into helping her and the FBI agents, headed by the tough Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) and her peer Mosley Drummy (Alvin "XZIBIT" Joiner).

We learn that the couple has broken up over issues that can't be disclosed here, and we get the feeling that Mulder has been cruelly discredited by his supervisors. Will Scully convince him to change his mind for one more assignment

What gives the largely preposterous plotting the semblance of a more realistic melodrama is the complex, ever changing relationship between Mulder and Scully, who clearly are still attracted to each other and are both inextricably committed, though to varying degrees at varying points in the story, to resolving the truly mysterious cases, in which they may have a very personal interest, too.

The movie's title is of course a familiar phrase for TV series fans–it was the slogan on a poster that Mulder had hanging in his office at the FBI.

Ultimately, all the dialogue-driven scenes, whether they are between Mulder and Scully, Scully and Father Crissman, Mulder and the FBI agents, Scully and Father Ybarra are about the inherent tension between faith and science, and whether the two spheres can be reconciled or mediated in the case of sinners (such as pedophiles) or believers, such as the boy's folks.

In this respect, the subtext of the film is more resonant and interesting than its overt format of a horror thriller. With no exceptions, each of the characters struggles with this dilemma, which defines his/her personal life as well as professional and collective ones.

Problem is, "I Want to Believe" is rather dull, or at least not scary or creepy enough by today's standards of the thriller-horror genres, which changed forever in the 1990s, as a result of TV's "X-Files" series itself, as well as a number of brilliant movies, such as David Fincher's "Seven," Jonathan Demme's "The Silence of the Lambs" and its sequels and imitators, and of course, "The Sixth Sense."

The filmmakers are credited with saying that they wanted to return to the series' roots, when it was the lone beacon on TV for fans of supernatural-horror tales: "We often scared people by what they didn't show, we made viewers afraid of anything."

Indeed, students of supernatural-horror-thrillers might get a kick-a history lesson-out of watching how "I Want to Believe" resorts to the deployment of the most basic (if not primitive) elements of these genres, without much assistance of special effects, such as the use of a sharp hammer (I am not kidding) in the clumsiest executed scene, which happens to be the climax; a beautiful woman swimming in a seemingly empty pool, a chase scene between cars in the snow, barking dogs that manage to frighten even pros like Scully and her colleague, eyes that suddenly turn red not from crying but from bleeding.

One of the narrative's concessions to the times is the idea of organs transplantation and the booming global trafficking of various body parts. But even these scenes are more appalling than truly scary or creepy. And frankly, who would not be horrified by the sight of an operation about to be conducted on a live, innocent individual in order to remove some invaluable organs from his/her body.

Unlike the first "X-Files" picture, Carter and Spotnitz's new story does not require audiences to understand the TV series mythology that stretched across nine seasons, 1993-2002. And in contrast to the 1998 presentation, which was kind of an epic episode of the TV show, sort of a warm up for a new season of the ongoing series, "I Want to Believe" is a stand-alone movie, or as Carter says, "If the show hadn't existed, this is a story that still would have found its way to the big screen."

You really have to believe in what he says to enjoy his picture.

Cast

Fox Mulder – David Duchovny Dana Scully – Gillian Anderson ASAC Dakota Whitney – Amanda Peet Father Joseph Crissman – Billy Connolly Agent Mosley Drummy – Alvin "Xzibit" Joiner Abductor (Janke Dacyshyn) – Callum Keith Rennie

Credits

20th Century Fox release of a Ten Thirteen production. Produced by Frank Spotnitz, Chris Carter. Executive producer, Brent O'Connor. Directed by Chris Carter. Screenplay, Frank Spotnitz, Carter, based on the series created by Carter. Camera: Bill Roe. Editor: Richard A. Harris. Music: Mark Snow. Production designer: Mark Freeborn. Art director: Anthony Wohlgemuth. Set decorator: Shirley Inget. Costume designer: Lisa Tomczeszyn. Sound: Michael Williamson; sound supervisors, John A. Larsen, Derek Vanderhorst. Visual effects supervisor: Mat Beck. Special makeup effects designer:

MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 104 Minutes.