The X-Files: I Want to Believe

Movie Information

The Story: Fox Mulder is called back to work for the FBI to help them on a case involving a missing agent and a psychic priest. The Lowdown: A largely botched attempt to bring new life to the cult TV show. It features interesting ideas, but barely develops them, and moves at a glacial pace.
Genre: Crime Drama-Horror
Director: Chris Carter
Starring: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly, Alvin "Xzibit" Joiner
Rated: PG-13

Chris Carter’s The X-Files: I Want to Believe isn’t likely to make believers out of any but the hardest of hard-core fans of the TV series (1993-2002) that spawned it. Carter’s notion of making this second theatrical film one that would play to both the show’s fan base and to new viewers as a stand-alone feature really doesn’t work. Fans complain about what’s not in it. Non-fans are left with a supposedly self-contained work with passing references to a dead sister and a dead child (both obviously important to understanding the main characters) and puzzling audience laughter at the in-joke bones being thrown to the fans. It’s actually surprising that it works as well as it does. Lay any marginal success at the feet of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson—or their chemistry at any rate.

The film finds former agent Fox Mulder (Duchovny) bearded and glum and sitting around doing not much of anything (in common with most movie mopes, an income is never a consideration when sulking is involved). He spends his days throwing pencils into ceiling tiles and waiting for the FBI to come calling. Mulder is, it seems, on their wanted list and apparently in hiding. The effectiveness of his hiding is doubtful, since all the FBI does when they want his help is ask his former partner, Dana Scully (Anderson), to request it of him. Considering that Scully appears to live with Mulder, brilliant fieldwork hardly seems required.

Scully wants Mulder to help the FBI on a case in order to get him out of his marathon sulk—and possibly to save the life of a missing agent. Mulder wants no part of it, but is finally drawn into the mystery like a moth to a flame—or a series character who knows what’s expected of him to set the plot in motion. The mystery involves the supposed visions of a defrocked, convicted-pedophile priest, Joseph Crissman (Glaswegian comedian and actor Billy Connolly), whose psychic connection to the missing agent has led the FBI to a man’s severed arm buried in the snow. Agent Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet, Martian Child) believes that Mulder can determine whether or not Fr. Joe is a fraud.

This paves the way for all sorts of things, including, but not limited to, a tabloid-esque plot resolution (complete with two-headed dog); medical ethics; issues of sin, guilt and redemption; relationship problems for Mulder and Scully; and more (I think the kitchen sink flew past at one point, but I won’t swear to that). What’s truly astonishing about such an assemblage of potentially interesting—even wild—material is that it’s all pretty dull on the screen. There’s something almost admirable about making a two-headed dog dull. The problem, I think, is that Carter wants this to be Mulder and Scully meet The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and has adopted a funereal tone and pace in an attempt to make that happen. It doesn’t happen. It only makes it funereal—to a point where The Zzzzz-Files might have been a better title on occasion.

Another major problem lies in the sheer amount of material. There’s too much to fit comfortably into the film’s running time. Nothing registers as it should because nothing is given enough time to develop. Scully brings Mulder into the case, and then finds that this makes him into the very person she can’t live with. That might be worthy of pursuit, but it goes nowhere. There’s a subplot involving Scully as the doctor of a sick child, which belongs in some other movie. And the whole concept of Mulder wanting to believe in the psychic priest, while Scully only does because she can’t help herself, ought to have been fascinating. Instead, it’s just thrown in and allowed to lie there.

The film’s climactic sequence is perfunctory, rushed and vaguely inconclusive. Here’s a case where an R rating might have helped. As it stands, these scenes are merely mildly creepy in a tacky manner—kind of like a pretentious rethinking of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962) with precious little mayhem, but a screwy same-sex marriage underpinning that manages to be vaguely offensive without ever making much sense. A genuine dose of bad-taste horror might have at least livened things up—and provided a climax worthy of the name.

The nail in the coffin that keeps The X-Files from ever rising past the point of interesting, though, is Carter’s directorial approach. Apart from a couple of shots—usually involving moonlight on snow—there’s nothing about the film that’s remotely effective in a visual sense. This is strictly a TV show on the big screen. Carter keeps reinforcing this feeling by building sequences that reach a point where they blackout, perfect for the insertion of commercials. I suppose these will come in handy when the movie makes it to the Sci-Fi Channel. Rated PG-13 for violent and disturbing content and thematic material.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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7 thoughts on “The X-Files: I Want to Believe

  1. Wayne

    I have to laugh at this one,. Go to the 1972 release of Rosie Greer in “The thing with two heads” at least you will not be bored, and laugh your self silly.. Fox and Company lost me as a fan in this movie. and refuse to go to another one of these productions…

  2. Brian

    I was somewhat underwhelmed by the movie, however the more I thought about the movie afterwards the more I liked it. And while the sick child subplot may seem like it belongs in another film, it parrallels the story’s questions about the juxtapostion of faith and ethics. Why would God speak through a pedophile? And if Scully believes it is right to do anything in her power to save the boy, even going against her faith (by using stem cells from aborted babies), is the Russian a monster for doing everything in his power to save his lover (by becoming Dr. Frankenstein)? It’s kind of thought provoking. But I will agree, Carter’s direction was nothing special. Even the show was more visually interesting.

  3. Ken Hanke

    I think you hit at one of the central problems with the movie — lot of intriguing ideas, all badly developed or put forth in such a hurried manner that they’re easy to miss. If there was any mention that using stem cells was against Scully’s faith, I missed it — unless this is coming from the fact that she works at a Catholic hospital, or from information about her beliefs derived from the show.

    If you really want to get into this thing on a subtext basis, there’s a pretty strong case to be made for the suggestion of a homophobic undercurrent, too, though this is hard to discuss without giving away a sizable chunk of plot.

  4. Brian

    I’ve heard the homophobia subtext stuff too. And I can’t really think of anything that is specifically homphobic, but I think I know the direction you’re going in. But it’s not any more homophobic than, say, Silence of the Lambs.

    But yes, Scully’s character was Catholic on the show. I guess they didn’t explain it well enough in the movie for some people.

  5. Ken Hanke

    I’ve heard the homophobia subtext stuff too. And I can’t really think of anything that is specifically homphobic, but I think I know the direction you’re going in. But it’s not any more homophobic than, say, Silence of the Lambs.

    Silence is probably where it stems from, but it does up the ante here in terms of mere numbers of bad guy gays. (Yes, I know that Demme has argued that the character in Silence isn’t gay, but…)

    But yes, Scully’s character was Catholic on the show. I guess they didn’t explain it well enough in the movie for some people.

    Did they explain it at all? If so, where?

  6. Brian

    Having only seen the film once, I can’t recall specifically if they mentioned it with dialogue like “I’m Catholic”. But I thought there was some exposition on it with her conversations with the pedophile, and also the head priest at the hospital who asks her to consult with the “highest order” on the issue of stem cells, which she does through the pedophile’s visions. I’m an atheist, but I found it interesting nonetheless.

    I’ll agree the film wasn’t great, but I’ll take it over any of the bloaded CGI man-child movies this summer, one of which involves a man who flies around in a rubber suit solving crimes and fighting a clown, which critics are trying to tell me is a “masterpiece”. God help us in our next election.

  7. Ken Hanke

    I missed any specific reference to her religion, but I’m not saying it mightn’t be buried in one of those dialogues where the film tries to get deeper. However, I didn’t think that the head priest was objecting to the treatment she was proposing based on it involving stem cells, but because it was an experimental procedure that would cause the patient tremendous suffering and might well not work.

    If nothing else, though, I am not among those calling The Dark Knight a “masterpiece.”

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