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Non-Review Review: X-Files – I Want to Believe

The title just about says it all. I want to believe in The X-Files. I want to believe in Mulder and Scully. I want to believe in Chris Carter. But I’m looking for proof. Proof that the franchise that held the entire world’s attention for a few minutes in the mid- to late-nineties still has some life in it. Proof that a ridiculous complicated and illogical and poorly written final few seasons on the air had not sucked the marrow entirely from the bones of a once unique pop cultural entity. So, what does the movie give me? Not concrete proof, but a little hint of faith. The film is not as bad as the final two years of the show. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it isn’t as good as the first five.

"X" doesn't mark the spot...

"X" doesn't mark the spot...

The movie has some elements working in its favours and some working against it. The strongest aspects in its favour are that it deals with faith and belief, two themes usually berift in summer flicks. The problem is that that movie doesn’t go anywhere with them. There are hints of conflict in Scully’s career at a Catholic hospital, but you know the film is pulling its punches when the only objection a bunch of priests have to stem cell treatment is that it might not work in the current case and is painful.

The movie makes it painfully obvious that all the characters are searching for things, for faith, for reasons and for second chances or forgiveness. The movie shoots itself in the foot by simply offering exploitive examples to explore. The scenes with Scully and the child are supposed to be the heart of the film – instead the audience counts how many times it has seen these scenes played out before. The character of Father Joe is interesting – as is the way the film sets out to explore how the predators live together, with their collective guilt and shame to keep them in check. Pedophiles are generally the remit of smaller, independent films (like the excellent The Woodsman), and here we see why. Father Joe never emerges as a character – partially because the script simply applies labels to him: priest, pedophile, prophet; but also because Billy Connelly tries too hard to build up a system of off-putting tics and mannerisms in place of a character. It’s a shame, because there is a lot of potential in the character.

That the plot is heavily derivative of about a million episodes is both a blessing and a curse. One senses that the adventure might have worked very well on the small screen, as an average episode that appears towards the ends of seasons. The familiarity also means that we forgive it some of its flaws. If you were a fan of the show, the sequences following the abductions seem more like the series you know than the clap-trap Chris Carter has going on around it. It’s fun to spot the cues: a healthy dose of Hell Money, a psychic who needs forgiveness like Beyond the Sea, a construction site confrontation like Squeeze and Toombs, there are countless more. It’s not entirely original, but if it was it wouldn’t be a movie adaptation. Besides, the central plot is one of the few elements that works quite well – and feels relatively spooky, even if it is wrapped up quite quickly.

Duchovny slides back into Mulder with ease. It’s nice to see him again – even with that beard. His insensitive witty remarks work as well as they always did to help draw attention away from the cheesiness of the setup. He even does fairly okay with the emotional stuff – not fantastic, but okay. Gillian Anderson, on the other hand, has a much harder time of it. True, she’s given the harder material, but she has always had that burden. Here she spends her two hours trying to jump start Scully along an arc that doesn’t really do her any justice. The calm and rational Scully is the one who can’t keep her emotions about Father Joe in check. Despite the religious underpinnings of the plot, her faith – arguably the most interesting facet of the character – isn’t really brought up, though the plot seems to be begging for some mature discussion. The supporting cast are similarly mixed. Alvin Joiner just can’t play an authority figure. I’m sorry. He looks like he’s liable to draw a gun at any moment, not push a pen. Amanda Peet is surprisingly solid. Billy Connelly flucuates wildly, but works well when he’s calmed down.

That’s the good stuff. The bad stuff is that the script is over loaded with just enough unnecessary internal references to alienate non-religious fans. You only watched when the show was popular? Well, then you don’t know who William is, so you’re out of the loop for this scene (William was their child who had to be given away for complicated reasons). Mulder’s sister was abducted, but then he found out she was dead? Oh yep, that was in the episode guest starring the dude from Silence of the Lambs, right? Such references aren’t casual remarks, they are plotpoints, but they aren’t outlined in enough detail to make sense or – worst still – they are dragged in and then ignored for the rest of the movie.

On top of that, the movie doesn’t really do anything. It focuses on these characters and reduces them down to two-dimensional copies of themselves – making you expect it’s going to actually do something with them – but then it leaves them like that.

I’m probably making it sound worse than it is. It’s a decent thriller that relies too much on its roots, but doesn’t do them justice. It contains a few interesting notions and ideas, but they don’t develop beyond the obvious.

I want to believe. This doesn’t make it any easier.

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The X-Files: I Want to Believe is directed by Chris Carter (creator of the show and creator of Millennium) and stars David Duchovny (Californication, Chaplin), Gillian Anderson (The Last King of Scotland, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People), Billy Connelly (The Man Who Sued God, The Last Samurai), Amanda Peet (The Whole Nine Yards, The Whole Ten Yards), Mitch Pileggi (A Flash of Genius, Stargate: Atlantis) and Callum Keith Rennie (Battlestar Galactica, 24). It was released in the US on the 25 June 2008 and in the UK and Ireland on 30 June 2008.

2 Responses

  1. Gillian Anderson did just fine thank you very much.

    • Kat, I’m a huge fan of Anderson (I think she deserved her Emmy for her work on the show – note that Duchovny didn’t get one), and I think she had the tougher role here. However, she’s always had the tougher role and she has been – generally speaking – very strong in everything I’ve seen her in (even How to Lose Friends and Alienate People). But I don’t think (and I’m willing to differ with you on this) that she did very well here – everything seemed forced, rather than natural.

      She said it was difficult to get back into character. I think that we saw that.

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