This borderline sci-fi soap opera could have benefited from a more visionary treatment from a director like David Lynch or William Friedkin instead of from the film’s writer/producer/director Chris Carter. Carter’s rote script requires Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny to call each other Scully and Mulder so many times that you’ll wish the writer had paid attention to screenwriting laws laid down by John Cassavetes or David Mamet.
A missing female FBI agent is cause for the government organization to call in former agents Fox Mulder (Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Anderson) to help solve the case with the dubious aid of Father Joseph (Billy Connolly), a psychic former pedophile priest in search of redemption. Severed body parts buried in snowy parts of Virginia and West Virginia give clues to a black-market organ transplant operation responsible for the serial killings of many people. For all of the fan hullabaloo around its plotline, The X-Files: I Want to Believe is little more than an extended if atmospheric version of the former television show. One particular false-bottom death scene after a routine chase sequence corrupts any suspension of disbelief. Nevertheless, there is some pleasure to be had in seeing Duchovny and Anderson reprise their best-loved roles, even if shrill performances from Amanda Peet and Xzibit drag down the movie.
Where the first X-Files movie (1998) catered so exclusively to fans of the TV show that it alienated moviegoers unfamiliar with the series, the sequel plods through every plot point as if it were an early birth. As the constant repetition of the names “Scully” and “Mulder” indicate, it is a movie so in love with itself that it challenges the audience to abstain from being lulled into a mystery that Sherlock Holmes would have had a lot more fun solving. After Scully encourages Mulder to join her sleuthing efforts with the FBI, she almost immediately does an about face, ostensibly because she is so repulsed by the idea that their chief psychic took advantage of 37 altar boys. In traditional cinema parlance, you could make some deductions about the filmmakers’ attempt at making an ethical, if not moral, statement through such a break in character but here the theme lines remain little more than tawdry dashes of exploitation elements.
Chris Carter’s overuse of the film’s snowy atmosphere to send chills of desolate isolation down the spines of its audience never takes hold because his actors never acknowledge the harsh conditions. Where the characters in the Coen Brothers’ Fargo interacted with the snow as an integral part of their motivation, Mulder and Scully ignore the frosty conditions as if they were on a two-day vacation from San Diego. Mulder walks around with his coat unbuttoned, never wears a hat or gloves, and his demeanor is too smarmy to make you believe that much is going on in his jaded brain other than a distant memory of what he ate for breakfast. He’s glib to a fault, and Mulder’s trademark sarcasm only goes so far in buoying the melodrama around him.
The irony is that in the film’s one blink-and-you-miss-it-moment of pure narrative abstraction when a character dies, it briefly snaps up all expectation and achieves a drop of terror that gets negated in the very next scene. The X-Files: I Want to Believe doesn’t know what to believe—and neither will its audience. MTW