Friday 30 January 2009

The X Files: I Want To Believe (2008)

Friday 30 January 2009
Unnecessary and undercooked; the second movie spawned from The X Files arrives six years after Chris Carter's '90s TV phenomenon finished -- but, perhaps more notably, over a decade since the masses deserted it. It's been a long time since the heyday of Mulder & Scully™, when the iconic FBI Agents could inspire pop-songs, boost magazine sales, and were the topic of playground conversation...

I Want To Believe is a probable bid by co-writer/director Carter to revive his career, which soured after a string of post-Files flops. At face-value, things appear promising: a standalone story means accessibility for anyone who got lost with the series' tangled conspiracy "mytharc"; its pop-culture impact was deep enough so you don't have to re-explain the concept to a new generation; and original stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson both agreed to reprise their signature roles.

Disappointingly for a lapsed X-Phile like myself (I bailed when Duchovny handed in his badge), this "comeback" big-screen adventure is a flaccid, tardy bore -- pockmarked with highpoints that fail to redeem it. Maybe they were wrong to ignore little green men, after all...?

Dana Scully (Anderson) has left the FBI and is working as a staff physician at a Catholic hospital, currently treating a boy with Sandhoff disease (a terminal brain condition), while Fox Mulder (Duchovny) has become a bearded recluse -- confined to a remote house he's covered in paranormal news clippings. Both become involved in a semi-spooky case, when Agent Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) contacts Scully with news the Bureau are willing to end their manhunt for Mulder if they lend their expertise to her case. Said case is the disappearance of several women, including a Federal agent, whom a defrocked paedophile priest called Father Joe (Billy Connolly) claims he has a psychic connection to.

The film's sole cinematic punch arrives early (a line of pick-jabbing agents trudging across a frozen ice plateau, guided by psychic sniffer dog Father Joe, as black choppers circle overhead -- see the trailer), and from there it's an extended episode of barely tolerable narrative and few thrills. 1998's Fight The Future was criticized for various reasons, but at least it had a sweep that took advantage of a 35mm canvass (with twice the budget, admittedly), and the good sense to arrive when the show was relevant.

I Want To Believe is a run of the mill feature-length episode, starring a well-preserved Anderson and a mildly-crinkled Duchovny -- its humble scope compounded on the small-screen. Carter's storyline becomes increasingly convoluted and ends disappointingly, particularly irritating given the fact it teases audiences with the far more exciting possibility of a werewolf movie. But no; it's just Frankenstein retold, with a sprinkling of Millennium's pilot.

They're not good enough to salvage the film, but Duchovny and Anderson put in decent performances that just about make it bearable. Anderson is given the widest emotional range to play, and does an admirable job, even though her hospital-set subplot feels like it belongs in a different movie. It was also good to see the Mulder & Scully coupling had progressed beyond the television's will-they/won't-they tease, with the film painting them as lovers cursed by impinging darkness. Purists may balk that their relationship has progressed to a quasi-marriage, but wouldn't it be ridiculous if they weren't sharing a bed after a 16-year partnership?

The supporting cast are less successful, although Connolly makes the best of a thankless role as the pederast priest who believes he's still on good terms with God. It's an uncomfortable role, but Connelly has the raspy-voiced, mad-haired, wounded indignity and quiet introspection down pat. Amanda Peet is little more than a pretty bauble, rapper Alvin "Xzibit" Joiner scowls as skeptical Agent Drummy (one letter too many...), and Mitch Pileggi briefly reprises his TV role as Assistant Director Walter Skinner to lend a perfunctory hand at the end.

Perhaps general audiences have simply moved on from Mulder & Scully, having parted on bad terms thanks to production team refusing to call it a day when their creative juices began to congeal. It's also true that the world's a politically different place these days -- the '90s government of the X Files' universe was a cloak-and-dagger echo of '70s paranoia fused with UFOlogy, but under George W. Bush the agenda was brought down-to-earth, with real-world terrorists replacing off-world aliens as the collective's boogeyman-of-choice. Dubya's portrait is even seen hanging in the FBI Building, just across from J. Edgar Hoover's, and earns a bizarre sting of Mark Snow's whistling theme, too.

Overall, this stands zero chance of making new fans, and didn't inspire a thirst to re-watch classic episodes from the original show, either. A monster-of-the-week style adventure should have been great fun, but Carter forgot to bring a monster, and the plot gets lost in a blizzard thicker than any snowstorms on-screen. Credit to Duchovny and Anderson for giving committed performances, and the storyline would have made a tolerable two-part episode back in the day... but, as the revival of a TV classic for a move into occasional film adventures, it's a stone-cold dud.

I wanted to believe; I really did.

20th Century Fox
Budget: $30 million
104 minutes

Director: Chris Carter
Writers: Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz

Cast: David Duchovny (Fox Mulder), Gillian Anderson (Dana Scully), Amanda Peet (Agent Dakota Whitney), Billy Connelly (Father Joseph Crissman), Alvin "Xzibit" Joiner (Agent Mosley Drummy), Mitch Pileggi (A.D Walter Skinner), Callum Keith Rennie (Janke Dacyshyn), Adam Godley (Father Ybarra), Xantha Radley (Monica Bannan), Christopher "Fagin" Woodcock (Franz Tomczeszyn) & Nicki Aycox (Cheryl Cunningham)