Sunday, July 27, 2008

From the Archive: "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" Film Review

Film Rating: C-

Welcome to The Archive, a comprehensive collection of reviews dating back to 2007, originally written for The Denver Post’s YourHub.Com website and print edition!  In the archive, you’ll find hundreds of movie, DVD, Blu-Ray, and TV reviews, along with other special features.  You can access the complete Archive Collection by clicking here, and read about the archive project by clicking here. 

Continue reading after the jump to access my original review of “The X-Files: I Want to Believe.”

From the Jonathan R. Lack Review Archives:
“The X-Files:
I Want to Believe”
Originally published July 27th, 2008

X-Files fans have been waiting six long years to see Agents Mulder and Scully in action again; Creator Chris Carter wrote and directed the new film, and stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in their career-defining roles.  The film’s title references the key struggle of the series.  With all this working for the film, it would be tough to disappoint.

Sadly, they found a way.

It’s been widely publicized how the film is a standalone, akin to the monster-of-the-week episodes that made up about two thirds of the TV series, and would be separate from the show’s complex mythology.  That’s true; the film is a standalone, and makes almost no references to the series.  This would be okay if the plot was interesting; many of the standalone episodes of the TV series are engaging thriller mysteries.  Unfortunately, the film’s main problem is the story, which is boring, convoluted, and full of plot-holes you could drive a flying saucer through.  Oh, wait…you can’t, because the film doesn’t have any aliens, or supernatural creatures of any sort.  The paranormal element of the plot is a small side-story, making the film feel nothing like X-Files.

But couldn’t all this be forgiven if there was some truly excellent character development?  Even the weaker episodes of the series are redeemed by the endearing characters, and their struggles with belief and dis-belief.  After all, the film is titled I Want to Believe, so we should expect some great character moments.

The film fumbles the ball here too.  Mulder and Scully aren’t in the movie enough to begin with, and whenever they begin to discuss the central struggle with belief, the film switches back to the annoying kidnap-mystery.  The film’s best moments come when we see Scully and Mulder’s motivations for doing what they do, and the discussions that follow.  Their final conversation together is a brilliant piece of writing, and feels like the ending to a much deeper, better movie.

The plot of the film deals with the abduction of an FBI agent; Father Joe, a former priest and convicted pedophile, is having visions about the crime, though he’s never met anyone involved.  Agent Dakota Whitney, head of the case, decides to seek the help of former Agent Fox Mulder, whose expertise in the paranormal could aid the case.  She goes to Dana Scully, finally using her M.D. degree and working in a hospital.  Scully urges Mulder, who was framed for murder at the end of the TV series, to come out of hiding and aid the FBI.

And yes, that is really the only tie this movie has with the TV series.  The show ended with Mulder on the run after being framed by the government.  Fans have probably been excited for the film simply to learn how Mulder gets out of that predicament.  It’s written off in one scene of dialogue; Scully tells Mulder the government will drop the charges if he helps the FBI.  That’s all the explanation fans will get.  As for the alien invasion?  It’s never mentioned.  Nor is it explained why this case is so monumentally important that the government would pardon someone they’ve worked so hard to try and lock up.    

Anyway, once we get past that, Mulder starts investigating, and from what I could tell, doesn’t really do anything to help.  Up until the end, it seems like he’s just a third-wheel.  Scully, meanwhile, is trying to save a dying a boy, whom the hospital wants her to stop working on; he has an in-curable disease.  This sub-story doesn’t even come close to being interesting.  Even worse, it means that for most of the movie, Mulder and Scully aren’t working together.  The fun of the show is to watch these two interact while working a case.  That’s absent here.

Like I said above, the plot quickly becomes convoluted and confusing and the ultimate payoff isn’t satisfying in any way, and leaves a number of plot strands unexplained.  The problem is, this story could have been good, had they focused on the right things.  The entire idea of God using a pedophile to send messages is intriguing, and brings a strong moral dilemma to the proceedings.  Father Joe has been asking for forgiveness for many, many years, night and day.  Has God forgiven him, and given him the chance to redeem himself?  None of this is adequately explored for most of the movie.  At the end, there’s a great conversation between Mulder and Scully that analyzes everything that has happened, and I wish there could have been more of this philosophical talk.

David Duchovny’s Mulder is one of the most endearing characters in television history, and that spark is still there, but diminished.  He doesn’t have the same enthusiasm any more.  As for Gillian Anderson, Scully seems like a shell of her former self, though I think this is due more to the writing.  The two still have terrific chemistry.

There’s a host of new side characters that are boring and only serve to take attention away from Scully and Mulder.  Amanda Peet plays Agent Whitney, and she does a good job; the problem is that the character isn’t interesting.  Xzibit plays the other agent, and he can’t act.  But there is one bit of truly inspired casting; as Father Joe, Billy Connelly steals the show.  Connelly’s presence always enhances a film, and he does a great job in his role.  He has an enthusiasm that the rest of the cast sorely lacks.

There’s some nice camerawork and some creepily effective edits, but most of this film is a disappointment.  Die-hard fans of the series wanting to see the story continued will be sad to see that the film stays away from the mythology.  Casual fans who simply want to spend some time with Mulder and Scully again will be saddened by their lack of screen time together, and the lack of enthusiasm in the performances.  Newcomers who simply want a good mystery will be bored and confused by the convoluted plot.  The film fails for every audience.

I wanted to believe as much as Mulder does, but in the end, there’s really nothing to believe in.  The film never justifies its own existence; perhaps it was better to just let the series end.

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