Back in 1999, critics wrote of X-Files: Fight The Future that it was an extended TV episode that just happened to make it to the big screen. Ten years later, I Want To Believe carefully walks over the footprints of its big screen forerunner, albeit with less reason to do so. After all, this is a production that was shrouded in mystery, that had a full six years since the show left our screens to play with, and if anything, had less pressure on it to satiate its fan base. It’s as close to a blank canvas as Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitzi have had with the franchise since it hit the big game.
So why are the pair so afraid to use it? Their story for I Want To Believe could have snuck into the early part of any X-Files season to date, and comfortably helped bide time until the season finale came around. It’s reticent to use much in the way of characters from the long history of the show, and while it alludes to key developments over the years, I Want To Believe often comes across as agonisingly shy. It’s not a bad film, just not a confident one.
It picks up with Mulder and Scully leading very different lives. The former is wanted by the FBI and living a lonely life, with just a series of newspaper clippings for company. Scully, meanwhile, is back in the world of medicine, and gets her own subplot about a sick child that few around her believe can be cured.
The mechanic that draws them back together is a missing FBI agent, being tracked by, among others, Amanda Peet’s ASAC Dakota Whitney, and Alvin ‘Xzibit’ Joiner’s Agent Mosley Drummy. They in turn are reliant on Father Joseph Crissman, played by Billy Connolly, whose visions apparently lead to vital clues, that – naturally – those around are sceptical of. What complicates things where Connolly’s character is concerned is the fact that he’s a convicted paedophile, with 37 counts of abusing altar boys to his name. And so while Mulder is inclined to believe him, there are umpteen reasons why virtually everyone in the film doesn’t trust him.
From there, the guts of a decent enough thriller fall into place, albeit not one – outside of the lead characters – with a particular grounding in The X-Files. So while there’s a bit of investigating, some intrigue and familiar characters at the head of the story, there are still things missing. Where are the shadowy, nameless figures? Where are the conspiracies? Where, even, are the monsters of old? Answer: nowhere to be seen. Instead, fans of the show have to placate themselves with seeing Mulder and Scully, six years on, even if the film then manages to keep them apart (save for a checking in with each other scene every now and then) for the bulk of its running time.
Yet I Want To Believe does have its moments. Carter, stepping into the director’s chair this time, does make good use of the snow-drenched Vancouver landscapes, and he pulls off one or two unnerving moments. His style is predominantly to serve a smaller screen, which accounts for the amount of time we spend in close-ups, but he does a decent enough job. Furthermore, for David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, it’s as if they’ve never been away, with the pair very much shouldering the bulk of the film’s work with consummate ease.
Among the supporting cast, both Amanda Peet and Alvin Joiner acquit themselves well enough in limited, primarily two-dimensional roles. Yet the casting of Billy Connolly is a gamble that doesn’t work. Connolly has proven before that he’s no slouch when it comes to big screen acting, but given that so much of the film channels through his character, it’s a real problem that he never conveys the creepiness or discomfort that the role demands. Bluntly, this reviewer never bought him.
All considered, though, if you take The X-Files: I Want To Believe as a low key, competent thriller, then it’s a decent enough night out at the flicks. You can’t help but wish though, as the credits roll, that Carter and Spotnitz had been bolder, and given the franchise the real shot in the arm that it needed to go much further, and you fear that their failure to do so makes I Want To Believe an oddly muted swansong for Mulder and Scully. That’d be a pity.