The X-Files: I Want to Believe
by Matt Wedge
Film Monthly Home
Short Takes (Archived)
Small Screen Monthly
Behind the Scenes
New on DVD
Books on Film
What's Hot at the Movies This Week
Once upon a time, The X-Files was one of the best shows on television. I know it’s hard to believe now, but for a solid five seasons, it was a creepy blast to follow FBI Special Agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) as they handled supernatural mystery of the week stories and doggedly pursued the truth behind an alien invasion conspiracy that the government seemed to be covering up. But then things went bad. The conspiracy story took over, forcing the entertaining and genuinely scary standalone episodes to the side. The show dragged on well past its prime while the conspiracy story became more ridiculous and impossible to follow. Duchovny got wise and bolted after seven seasons, returning only occasionally to do guest spots until the whole lumbering mess finally stumbled to an end with a pathetic whimper. So as a fan of the show, it was with mixed feelings that I approached this latest chapter of the franchise. The question for me became, could the film make up for those last few seasons? The decidedly uneven answer is: kind of.
As the film begins, an FBI agent is abducted. When a disgraced former priest (Billy Connolly, Mrs. Brown) comes forward claiming he has information about the agent’s abduction via a psychic link, the agent in charge of the investigation (Amanda Peet, Igby Goes Down) seeks out Mulder because of his years of experience with supernatural phenomena. After some brief exposition about what has happened to the characters in the years between the end of the show and the start of the film, things get down to business as Mulder is intrigued by what he perceives to be the authentic psychic powers of the priest. He joins the investigation and drags a resistant Scully along for the ride. Any more of the plot gets into spoiler territory, so I’ll just say that the case is sufficiently warped, involving strange experiments. A large bulk of the film is also devoted to effectively exploring the evolving relationship between Mulder and Scully.
Duchovny and Anderson’s chemistry is much of what helped the show work and they easily recapture that magic in their signature conflict of the believer versus the skeptic. Connolly does good work as the creepy former priest, wisely never trying to gain audience sympathy as he tries to atone for his rather horrible sins. The rest of the cast is surprisingly bland with the miscast Peet phoning it in and a performance by rapper-turned-actor (casting directors take note: I’m really sick of having to type that description) Xzibit (Gridiron Gang) that seems intended to cure insomnia.
The film is really just an expanded version of one of the decent stand-alone episodes of the show. It’s not outstanding, but it coasts by on the nostalgic kick of seeing Duchovny and Anderson back in the roles that made them cult heroes. It’s an entertaining enough way to spend your time, but there is a noticeable lack of ambition to be anything more that a modestly paced time killer.
In a smart move by series creator Chris Carter (who co-wrote and directed), it is decided to not haul the conspiracy story on to the big screen. But on the flip side, the film feels rather slight as a result of the story that they are telling. It’s obvious that the film was intended to be a low-key throwback to the early seasons of the show, but it just winds up looking and feeling drab. Which really is a shame when considering the ghoulishness of the truth behind the case. The climactic scenes, in particular, cry out for a more graphic horror movie vibe than they are given. Maybe if Carter had handed the directing duties off to a filmmaker with more visual flair, it wouldn’t have felt so subdued.
Another problem is the frustrating way that the end of the show is ignored. If the aliens are destined to invade on the date revealed in the final episode, why does Mulder care what happens with this case? If the end of the world really is imminent, why is he just sitting around throwing pencils at the ceiling tiles? These questions didn’t have to be answered, but some acknowledgment of their existence would have gone along way to making the rest of the film feel less superfluous.
But I suppose that’s just me devolving into a bit of a fanboy rant that only the show’s fans are going to care about. And for that fan base, it is a worthy flick to check out for the lead performances and because it is a more palatable ending than was given to us by the series finale. Even with all of the flaws it reminded me why I loved the show so much in the first place. If the story is worth telling and Carter finds a decent director to handle it, a sequel wouldn’t be a completely unwelcome proposition.
Matt Wedge is a writer and film critic in Chicago.
Got a problem? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org