X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008)
Reviewed by Andrew Kasch
Starring David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly, Xzibit
Directed by Chris Carter
I spent the better part of the Nineties completely obsessed with "The X-Files". In its prime, the show was paranoid suspense at its best. Like the rest of America, I spent week after week picking through the clues, lusting after Gillian Anderson and wondering where the great conspiracy story would take us. In the end, it took us nowhere thanks to increasingly bad seasons of aimless writing. But through the years, the dormant fan in me hoped that "The X-Files" would get back on track by making the leap back to the big screen.
No such luck. The X-Files: I Want To Believe strikes a Batman & Robin-sized death blow to this once great franchise. But instead of nipples on the bat suit, fans get to suffer through a masturbatory mish-mash of bad plotting and half-baked character arcs that are among the worst seen in a theatrical movie. This film isn’t just under-developed, it’s downright stillborn and (like the final seasons of the show) successfully destroys everything good that came before it. While Mulder and Scully’s first big screen outing tried to be more epic than the series, this one scales it back. Far, far back. So far that it becomes even smaller than the show – both in scale and creativity.
Writer/director/creator Chris Carter and co-writer Frank Spotnitz have fashioned a script so thin and directionless that it makes me want to take back every bad thing I said about M. Night Shyamalan and The Happening. There is barely enough material here to fill an episode of the series, let alone a whole feature, and this one clocks in at a lengthy two hours. The plot details have long been kept under lock and key with the production even leaking fake pictures and news items to confuse the fans. Ironically, all those red herrings proved to be far more interesting than the final product, and there’s a reason Chris Carter didn’t show us his cards: He never had any to begin with.
The story follows Mulder and Scully as they rejoin the FBI to search for an agent who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. The manhunt is led by the strange Father Crissman (Connolly) a psychic pedophile priest (!) who claims to sees visions of the abductees. Mulder and Scully doubt the old man’s abilities but quickly stumble onto a plot involving Russian organ harvesters who are doing medical experiments on people. Of course, these events only play out through a portion of the film. The rest of the story revolves around Dr. Scully and her struggle to help a young boy dying of brain disease. She wants to use stem cell treatment to save his life but faces opposition from priests and family members. Being a woman of faith, Scully is torn between her ethics and religious beliefs which are tested even more by her disgust of Father Crissman.
As the title suggests, I Want To Believe is a story about faith, and it wields its ideas like a bad student film. The dual plots crash into each other without rhyme or reason as events unravel through loosely connected scenes and pseudo-intellectual babble. Furthermore, why are Mulder and Scully – who have gone up against aliens, werewolves, ghosts, vampires, mutants, chupacabres, super-soldiers and Satan – having any crisis of faith at this point? Why are they having trouble with a psychic priest when they’ve seen everything? It’s obvious that Carter and Spotnitz are striving for some introspective character study on Mulder and Scully but can’t even fashion a story worthy of their return. Instead, they spend the entire movie tackling weighty issues in shallow ways. If anything, this film is concrete proof that former series writers Glen Morgan and James Wong were the real brains behind "The X-Files".
Believe may deviate from the show’s worn-out mythology, but it doesn’t even provide the basic ingredients for a stand-alone “monster of the week” episode. There is barely anything contained in the script that warrants the "X-Files" label, and the villainous threat isn’t just short-changed, it feels like a complete afterthought. In particular, die-hard fans will recall Gillian Anderson’s hideously pretentious debut as writer/director on the Season Seven episode "All Things", which this film has more in common with than a regular episode of the series. It all amounts to nothing more than a scattershot series of uninteresting mystery and clumsy character drama that is nowhere near as intelligent as it thinks it is.
For those who sat out during the show’s final years (which would be most of you), "The X-Files" took a serious nosedive when Carter introduced a love story between agents Mulder and Scully – something he swore would never happen in the early days. Embracing the worst aspects of the series, the film spends a good portion of its time developing the Mulder/Scully romance with continuous lovers’ spats and soap opera dialogue (“I can’t follow you into the darkness, Mulder”). There’s a genuine chemistry between Duchovny (as likeable as ever) and Anderson (as moody and serious as ever), and they slide back into their roles with ease but don’t have much to work with. Playing second fiddle are Amanda Peet and rapper Xzibit as the two bland FBI agents leading the case, and both are instantly forgettable while the great Billy Connolly is reduced to spewing clichéd psychic jibber-jabber. Mitch Pellegi’s Walter Skinner also makes a last-minute entrance, but he’s shoe-horned in and amounts to nothing more than fan service.
The dreary snowscapes lend the visuals a nice atmosphere, but Carter directs like a guy who has a hard-on for David Fincher/Christopher Nolan thrillers without the understanding of what made them work. The few chase scenes and “suspense” moments we get are shot and edited incoherently, some with laughable results. The least funny moments come from Carter’s piss-poor attempts at humor (one scene has the "X-Files" theme playing over a picture of George W. Bush). The film is devoid of pacing, structure, and any consistent tone. Furthermore, there isn’t even a climax. The entire story is one giant build-up to nothing without the sense of fear and paranoia that made us fall in love with the show.
"The X-Files" started as a cultural phenomenon, and today it’s barely a blip on the radar screen. This film makes it painfully clear why. I Want To Believe, coupled with the last few seasons, proves once and for all that Chris Carter is not only the weak link, he has absolutely no understanding of his own creation. If this is all the man has to show for himself after six years, his career won’t survive the inevitable thrashing he’ll receive from fans and critics alike. The only thing he’s done successfully is kill "The X-Files" once and for all. I’m ashamed to call myself a fan.
1 ½ out of 5
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