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July 30, 2008 

FILM REVIEW: X-Files: I Want to Believe Leaves Cursing X-Philes Wanting More


By D.F. Krause

Assessing The X-Files: I Want to Believe requires you to understand something X-Files fans used to do every Sunday night. They would curse creator Chris Carter, damning him to hell.


This lovely, dysfunctional co-dependency went on for nine years. Fans of the TV show felt so strongly about where they wanted the story to go, Carter could never completely satisfy the fans’ fondest wishes. No matter. By Monday morning, fans had accepted what they’d been given, and would form new hopes moving forward from the latest stopping point in Carter’s imagination, not their own.


So the natural first reaction to I Want to Believe is based on what the film is not, rather than what it is. Six years after the end of the TV series, and 10 years after the franchise’s first feature film Fight the Future, we get no update on the alien conspiracy. We get no big special effects, no exploding buildings and no information about what happened to the supersoldiers or a variety of other characters. (At least we know what happened to Agent Doggett. He’s doing DirectTV commercials.)


What we do get, however, is a pretty interesting thriller, somewhat light on the supernatural but awash in darkness and moral quandaries – all X-Files specialties.


Former FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) are now living a secluded life somewhere within a helicopter’s ride of Washington D.C. Mulder has been a fugitive since sustaining a bogus conviction for murder in the series finale, while Scully has landed a job as a staff physician at a local Catholic hospital, where she has developed an acute concern for a young, presumably dying, boy in her care.


Since the series ended with Mulder and Scully on the run together, we never really get a complete explanation as to how Scully managed to return to mainstream society, although it is implied that the FBI knows full well that Mulder and Scully are together – and where – but finds it easier to simply ignore Mulder than to capture him and have to deal with him once again.


That changes when a young, female FBI agent disappears and a disgraced pedophile priest named Father Joe (Billy Connolly) approaches the bureau claiming to have visions about her fate. Assistant Special Agent in Charge Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) persuades her reluctant superiors to approach Scully and ask that she deliver a message to Mulder: All charges will be dropped and everything will be forgiven if he helps to solve the case.


Bearded, disheveled and skeptical of the overture, Mulder at first refuses, but can’t resist the challenge.


The pursuit of the missing agent – and soon, a second abducted woman – leads Mulder, Scully, Whitney and a cabal of more conventional FBI types on a bizarre expedition of severed body parts, strange animal connections and finally a twisted laboratory where they discover the horrible truth behind the women’s disappearances and the intentions of some exceedingly sinister but quite human villains.


Woven throughout the story are classic X-Files conflicts between belief and skepticism, and between moral judgment and the possibility of redemption.


Connolly is very effective as the exiled priest, guilty of molesting 37 altar boys, but nevertheless struggling with visions that might give him an opportunity to serve virtue and perhaps achieve a small measure of redemption. Scully, always the skeptic but increasingly open-minded as the TV series wore on, reverts to her classic form by completely disregarding Father Joe as a fraud. Mulder, no stranger to real and charlatan psychics of all kinds, puts Father Joe to some stern tests – but finds his accuracy too compelling to ignore.


Set in winter, the story’s settings are either dark and ominous or gray and subdued. That’s an appropriate backdrop for the internal conflicts both Mulder and Scully face. He has to come to grips with his return to the game. She comes to regret dragging him back, and fears he will bring the resulting darkness into their home and their relationship. What’s more, Scully is also struggling with the subplot of her desire to save her young patient, while hospital administration – an army of priests and nuns for the most part – argue that giving him up for dead is the most prudent option.


While the personal and emotional struggles worked, the big one between Mulder and Scully seemed almost obligatory. It couldn’t be the X-Files without some sort of Mulder/Scully confrontation about whether they could do this together anymore, so they have the showdown, they talk like it could be the end, and of course nothing comes of it.


Mitch Pileggi’s return as Assistant Director Walter Skinner was brief, but highly effective and perfectly timed. Peet also worked quite well as an up-and-coming FBI agent who might have some of the same tendencies that bought Mulder so much grief during his days in the bureau.


The X-Files fan always want Mulder and Scully to emerge triumphant, unified and renewed in their determination to take on evildoers of all shapes, sizes and spiritual dimensions. Chris Carter won’t let you have that, of course, so you curse him long and loud while immediately commencing speculation about when he will start writing the next film. So you can curse him again.


Three stars out of four.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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