Certainly, when all that terrifying stuff happened at the beginning of this decade, the wise-cracking, government-hating Fox Mulder archetype suddenly seemed inappropriate, even distasteful. In 2001-2004 or so, movie audiences were perhaps not ready for the continuation of a franchise steeped in playful irreverence in the face of an evil, scary government. But, in the past few years, we’ve begun to realize that our government has actually become overtly scary. And yet we haven’t come back around to an X-Files state of mind. We’ve moved on. Maybe co-writer, director, and series creator Chris Carter could have won us back with The X-Files: I Want to Believe if he so clearly hadn’t moved on as well.
The problem with I Want to Believe is exactly what could have been good about it. Rather than another big, epic addition to the X-Files canon, a continuation of the grand conspiracy in the spirit of the first X-Files film, I Want to Believe is a simple one-off detective story. Those were often some of the best episodes in the show, but I Want to Believe just feels like a throwaway TV script from a decade ago.
The concept of the movie sounds intriguing. Women, including a young FBI agent, have been disappearing in West Virginia. A former priest (Father Joseph Crissman, played by Billy Connolly) who claims to have a psychic connection to the crime offers his help and leads the bureau to some nearby body parts.
So, of course, Agents Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) and Mosley Drummy (Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner) call in the exiled experts on weirdness, no-longer-Special-Agents-Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dr. Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). That’s where the movie really starts, and really starts to fall apart.
Mulder and Scully are in a romantic relationship now. They live together, she as crusading pediatric neurologist and he as a (what else?) paranoid shut-in, hiding away from the government in their home, cutting out newspaper articles and throwing pencils at the ceiling.
The two begin investigating, at which point you start to wonder, “Why were they even called in, anyway?” Mulder displays no particular expertise, no real Mulder-ness, other than just wanting to believe (aha!) the old weirdo. And the villains behind the disturbing phenomena don’t turn out to be anything all that interesting or clever, as was the case in many of the episodes of this type. What they’re doing and why they’re doing it is, in fact, just kind of gross, more appropriate for a movie like Saw than The X-Files.
Everyone is on some half-cocked, quixotic crusade: Scully is still trying to save her ill-fated son, in the proxy form of an adorably dying child patient of hers with whom Anderson eye-rolls her way through some brutal baby-talk scenes; Mulder, of course, is still trying to rescue his abducted sister; Father Joe, a convicted pedophile, is trying to redeem his immortal soul. It almost seems like Carter realized the script was too small in scope to really qualify for the big screen, and decided, as an afterthought, to tack on some big themes that would bulk up the movie’s movieness.
The performances are nothing special, either. Even the film’s two principals, who on the small screen had such great chemistry, here are stilted and boring together. They seem like any other sexless middle-aged couple.
Where Anderson’s performance feels called in, even disdainful, toward this, her only truly successful role ever, Duchovny’s is just, well, weird, if only because the Mulder character has failed to age and mature with the actor. That grown-up teenager shtick of his was forgivable, even cute, 10 years ago. Now that Duchovny’s closing in on late middle age he’s managed to transform “Spooky” Mulder into “Creepy” Mulder.
With X-Files: I Want to Believe, Chris Carter proves that he was done with The X-Files a long, long time ago. So why make another one?
Congrats, Chris, you’ve just become your generation’s George Lucas. You took a once great, or at least very good, franchise, and you half-assed it into complete cultural obsolescence.
Thanks. Thanks a lot.