Starring: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly, Xzibit. Rated PG-13.
Even in the estimation of its most
ardent followers, The X-Files has
rarely been a model of consistency, if only because creator Chris Carter’s
vision is so audaciously complex that it sometimes collapses beneath the weight
of its own ambition. At its best, it is lurid, cerebral pulp fiction that
deftly combines elements of Carter’s religious faith with his predilection for
paranormal fantasy and maddeningly intricate conspiracy theories. In its lesser
moments, it is convoluted and unfocused, undone by its myriad twists and
needlessly baffling turns.
The good news is that I Want to
Believe, the second feature spun off from
a television series that remains as much a presence in syndication as it was
during its nine seasons on FOX, plays like a solid, albeit unexceptional
stand-alone episode, broad enough to ensnare the uninitiated without alienating
the show’s loyal base. Those expecting a full-cast reunion may be disappointed
– many of the show’s unsung heroes and shadowy conspirators are conspicuously
absent – but the sight of Mulder and Scully, back on the FBI beat to crack a
seemingly impenetrable missing-persons case, should soften the blow.
Given the dense cloud of secrecy that has enveloped the film
since its inception, I will refrain from divulging too many details, except to
say that Mulder (David Duchovny) has grown a modest beard since his acrimonious
departure from the FBI, and has lost none of his passion for armchair
meditations on the unexplained. Scully (Gillian Anderson) is more firmly rooted
in the present, practicing medicine and still struggling to reconcile her
devotion to science with her spiritual leanings.
Carter and longtime co-writer Frank Spotnitz waste little
time in thrusting the two back on the job to solve the abduction of a fellow
agent, aided by a disgraced priest (Billy Connolly) who claims, somewhat
convincingly, to experience psychic visions. It’s enough to rekindle Mulder’s
obsessive quest for the Truth; ever the skeptic, Scully is slow to accept the
notion that a child molester might be privy to some form of divine insight.
What follows is a perfectly serviceable slice of X-Files lore
that works best as an unsettling procedural
rich in the grisly details Carter seems to relish: men shedding tears of blood,
sawn-off body parts eerily preserved in an iced-over river and, in the midst of
the madness, Mulder and Scully trying to make sense of it all. That they never
quite succeed is understandable. While those details lend an appealingly
ominous tone to the proceedings, only some of them are adequately explained.
The rest, I suppose, serve as proof of some otherworldly force at work in our
Or so Mulder would have it. Six years after the show’s
deliberately open-ended finale, Duchovny’s compulsive truth-seeker remains quick-witted
and effortlessly charismatic, just as his relationship with Scully remains
frustratingly complicated. I Want to Believe surrounds them with an engaging story, but one can’t help wondering
whether the definitive X-Files
movie isn’t still out there.