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.