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Dustin Putman

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The X-Files:
I Want to Believe
2 Stars
Directed by Chris Carter
Cast: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly, Alvin 'XZibit' Joiner, Callum Keith Rennie, Adam Godley, Alex Diakun, Nicki Aycox, Fagin Woodcock, Mitch Pileggi.
2008 – 105 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violent and disturbing content and thematic material).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, July 26, 2008.
It has been six years since the end of long-running television series "The X-Files" and a full decade since the solid 1998 feature film, "The X-Files: Fight the Future." The wait has been a long time coming—at this point, one wonders if the franchise is still relevant enough for wide audiences—and die-hard fans are no doubt quivering with excitement at the prospect of getting to once more see paranormal investigators Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) back in action. The best advice to give any prospective viewers is to disregard their expectations about what grand conspiracy theories, frightening storylines, or mind-blowing plot developments writer-director-creator Chris Carter has conjured up. In fact, they should also simply imagine the characters of Mulder and Scully transplanted into an episode of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." If someone walks into this film expecting scares or visceral excitement, they're barking up the wrong tree.

Amazingly, "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" features no aliens, no otherworldly creatures, no ghosts, no goblins, no explosions, no gunfire, and almost no action. Whereas the larger-scaled first film culminated with a daring escape from a collapsing glacier and nothing less than a UFO rising from its underground hideout and into the big blue sky, the most thrilling scene here finds a van tumbling down a tiny embankment. Would-be suspense and minimal supernatural undercurrents are ultimately muted in exchange for a motion picture so low-key and cerebral that one can scarcely believe it is being released by a major Hollywood studio in the heart of the summer blockbuster season. "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" isn't a horror movie at all, and couldn't hardly be recognized as sci-fi, either. Viewing them as such is just a setup for disappointment. Instead, what writer-director Carter has made is a poignantly realized character drama and a thought-provoking rumination on faith, destiny and the very existence of God. There is also a fairly conventional police procedural lurking somewhere in there, but it's the weak spot when placed next to the headier themes at work in Carter's and co-writer Frank Spotnitz's thoughtful screenplay.

Six years since bidding adieu to their work as paranormal-focused FBI agents, Dana Scully is now a dedicated surgeon at a Catholic hospital, about to embark in a struggle to save the life of a young patient with a serious brain disease, and boyfriend—yes, boyfriend—Fox Mulder has been in seclusion, on the outs with the authorities. When a female FBI agent suspiciously disappears and shamed former priest Father Joseph Crissman (Billy Connolly) claims to be experiencing psychic visions about the case, Scully and Mulder are called back into the fold to help assist in the investigation. Whereas Mulder eagerly jumps back into his work, Scully is not so sure her heart is in it anymore, and even less sure whether their relationship can withhold a future seemingly taking them in opposite directions.

Generic plotting causes "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" to resemble an extended (and lesser) episode of the series. As a genre effort, it's strictly forgettable, so underwhelming that the viewer sits and patiently waits for surprise developments and shocking revelations that never arrive. What was the point of the filmmakers, actors and studio being sworn to secrecy when, really, there were no juicy beans to spill? Furthermore, the whole concept of the show—Mulder and Scully teaming up to investigate and solve different mysteries—is done away with here when Scully quits early on and spends the majority of the film brooding at the hospital. And yet—and this is a big "yet"—"The X-Files: I Want to Believe" worked for me. The film's brazen courage to move in a different direction and focus on tough moral dilemmas rather than little green men or creepy crawlies is worth celebrating.

Fans desiring to see what became of Mulder and Scully, both as individuals and as a long-awaited couple, will be more than pleased with the affectionate treatment they receive. Strong-willed individuals with specific, diverse personalities, Mulder is lured back into the intoxicating dangers of his old job while Scully resists the minor temptations and yearns to get on with her new life. As Scully questions whether or not she can be with a man inextricably linked to the dark side, she also is left to wonder about the motives of a god who can bring innocent children into the world only to have them suffer. Reprising their iconic roles as believer Mulder and skeptic Scully are David Duchovny (2007's "Things We Lost in the Fire") and an especially on-target Gillian Anderson (1998's "Playing by Heart"). The two of them share a bedroom scene that is stunningly tender and romantic just by being so intimately mundane; they feel like a couple meant to be together even as their relationship is kept subtle rather than explicit. Anderson, in particular, commands the screen every time she's on it, warmly ingratiating Scully's feelings of doubt and desire for normality into the viewer's sympathy.

Threatening to snatch away some of the spotlight is Billy Connolly (2006's "Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties"), a stand-up comedian who sheds all signs of his background in order to disappear into the complex, guilt-addled part of Father Joseph Crissman. A once-convicted pedophile who has struggled in the interim to make peace with God, Joseph has no understanding of the psychic visions he is experiencing, nor to his possible link to the perpetrators. Connolly's performance is powerful and gutsy. Less fully conceived are the two FBI agents who seek Mulder and Scully out, Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) and Mosley Drummy (Alvin 'XZibit' Joiner). Their places in the grand scheme of things are functional, at best. Amanda Peet (2007's "Martian Child") is appropriately authoritative in a slim role, while rapper Alvin 'XZibit' Joiner (2006's "Gridiron Gang") doesn't quite convince that he was picked for acting talent over name value.

"The X-Files: I Want to Believe" is blusteringly photographed by Bill Roe (2005's "Elektra"), taking advantage of snowy landscapes and a dreamlike sense of isolation. One question, though: since when did West Virginia start receiving the winter snowfall totals of northern Alaska? Nevertheless, audiences in the mood for a mindless thriller will not get that with "The X-Files: I Want to Believe." The film's stringent aversion to horror trappings and concentration on serious, non-supernatural adult issues will downright perplex some people, there is no doubt about that. For myself, it was sort of refreshing. Even though it feels a little like cheating to have to wait ten years for another "X-Files" picture, only to get one that doesn't even try to be all that spooky or disturbing, as an emotionally respectful addendum into the ongoing lives of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, it is satisfying and bittersweet.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman