I love The X-Files. From the first season until I went off to college, I watched the show religiously, no matter what time it was screened or what day of the week it was shown on. I saw the first movie on opening day; I have a couple of X-Files tee shirts somewhere in my closet, and even have the soundtrack album of music inspired by the show. I’m a fan, and as a fan I want the movie to be as successful as possible because I think the show ended too early thanks to David Duchovny thinking he could be a movie star.
The film opens with Mulder (Duchovny) standing outside Joliet State Correctional Institute with a suitcase in hand. Pulling up in an old police car bought at auction is Scully (Gillian Anderson). After a quick trip to James Brown’s church in Chicago and a long talk with Cab Calloway, the two decide to get the band back together and save the orphanage in which they grew up.
Oh wait, that’s the plot of The Blues Brothers. Sorry.
To set up the movie in as non-spoilery a way as possible, Dana Scully and Fox Mulder no longer work for the FBI. Scully is following her first love, medicine, while Mulder is following his first love, collecting newspaper clippings and tacking them up onto walls. Meanwhile, FBI Agent Monica Bannerman has gone missing, and it’s up to ASAC Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) and Agent Mosely Drummy (Xzibit aka Alvin Joiner) to find her before it’s too late.
Thanks to the assistance of a disgraced priest and possible psychic, Father Joe Crissman (Billy Connolly), they get their first lead. But neither of the two agents on the case works on the X-files, and while Whitney seems open to the idea of visions, Drummy is not (gee, that seems really familiar…). If you need a psychic wrangler, who better than Mr. Unexplained Phenomenon himself, the legendary Fox Mulder? A carrot is dangled, and Fox and Dana find themselves back at FBI headquarters, and back at work on a case.
The X-Files: I Want to Believe is on the big screen, and I did pay big screen prices to get into it, but I Want to Believe is not actually a movie. For better or worse, it is an episode or two of a television show screened on a larger stage, with a slightly increased budget. Everything about the production screams TV, from the overuse of extreme close-ups that turn Mulder’s face into a moonscape of pores, to the blatantly Canadian parents in what is supposed to be West Virginia (or Virginia, the movie isn’t very clear on where Scully works or where most of the action takes place).
While it’s very nice to see Mulder and Scully together again and chasing bad guys, I Want to Believe doesn’t feel like a real X-Files event. Not only is it just a couple of TV episodes stuck together, it’s a couple of average TV episodes stuck together. There’s nothing overtly X-Files feeling about the events of the story. There’s no real creepiness factor. The only way I can describe it is “The Further Adventures of Agent Clarice Starling and The Guy from Red Shoe Diaries, Featuring the Second Teacher from Head of the Class.”
I Want to Believe could have easily been any episode of CSI, Without a Trace, or Generic Detective Drama Series with a Generic Medical Drama subplot thrown in for good measure. The script from series creator Chris Carter and longtime collaborator Frank Spotnitz is a generic TV detective script with a few curse words thrown in to justify the PG-13/15 rating. Mulder and Scully are basically irrelevant, as is the X-Files tie in. The movie is a stand-alone thing to keep it accessible to non-fans, but our favorite FBI agents are involved to get people to actually go see the movie.
Director Chris Carter lacks the eye necessary for the big screen, and he fails to take advantage of the things the big screen offers. I know The X-Files has never been Grand Guignol, but the TV show managed a higher level of creepiness and occasional gross-outs than the film does. At least Carter’s way of working keeps I Want to Believe from doing anything CGI (aside from one particularly bad scene). There are plenty of chances to work in some appropriate special effects near the film’s climax, but these chances are ignored. Even when a little blood would heighten the shock of the climax, that blood is not used and the experience is weaker for it. A suspense movie needs teeth; I Want to Believe settles for gums.
The performances from all involved are good, but nothing special. Duchovny and Anderson will always be Mulder and Scully to the fans of the show. The characters still fit comfortably, and the actors perform admirably, with Mulder providing the comic relief and Scully providing the foil. Amanda Peet’s ASAC Whitney makes a good running buddy for Mulder, and she does what is asked of her for the role. Billy Connolly is subtle but effective as Father Joe, restraining the urge to turn Joe’s faith into zealotry. There are no outright bad performances, though Xzibit tends to glower too much and never once offered to pimp anyone’s ride
Aside from a few refreshing references, the movie (which I keep trying to refer to as a show in a Freudian slip) ignores everything that happened after Duchovny left the show. Was there really a need to introduce more new agents when you could’ve easily gotten Doggett and Reyes to appear in basically the same roles? By that same token, why did it take over an hour for Assistant Director Skinner (Mitch Pileggi in an extended cameo) to make his first appearance? If you’re going to make Fox Mulder into a smart John Rambo, then why hold back on Fox’s version of Col. Trautman? There’s an established universe, why not use it more effectively? It’s like Carter and Spotnitz decided to completely wash their hands of everything that happened in the X-Files universe after 2000.
It’s possible I expected way too much from this film in comparison to the last X-Files film. Perhaps I was doomed to disappointment from the very beginning. This didn’t feel like a movie, just a pilot designed to gauge interest in a new X-Files series. Competent and fairly entertaining though it was, the film pales in comparison to the better ‘Monster of the Week’ episodes of the old series. I’ve seen worse, but I’ve also seen better. Three stars is a bit high, but two stars is a bit harsh.
I’ll give it 3, but under protest. This isn’t really an X-Files movie, and it might have fared better without the expectations brought on by tagging it as an X-Files movie.