Little X-citement: Confined ‘Believe’ wastes top-notch performances
I don’t mean to sound paranoid, but They are out to get us. Who? You know, Them! Who’s Them?
I can’t say; it’s a sworn secret. But I can tell you it involves something along the the lines of Area 51 and the Kennedy Assassination.
Maybe bigger. Or at least big enough to entice the curiosity of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, those baggage-laden, sexually-repressed super sleuths who in the distrusting eyes of “X-File” fans are the epitome of mystery and intrigue.
For me, though, they’re a complete and utter snooze and so is their new adventure, “The X-Files: I Want to Believe,” a not-so-secret stratagem to separate fans from the precious dollars they haven’t spent pumping Bush and Cheney’s black gold into their suddenly valueless SUVs.
Picking up where the TV series left off when it was cancelled six years ago by that other Fox – the one run by Friend of Dubya, Rupert Murdock – the movie continues the running conflict between Scully (Gillian Anderson), the pragmatic woman of medicine, and Mulder (David Duchovny), the open-minded optimist who desperately believes in the paranormal and unexplained.
As representatives of the age-old argument of science versus faith, they have a rather large cross to bear courtesy of “X-Files” creator Chris Carter, an obviously guilt-ridden Catholic who uses “Believe” as a form of celluloid therapy.
Clearly, he’s troubled by the Church’s recent sex abuse scandal and its position on radical medical practices such as stem-cell research, awkwardly incorporating each into a convoluted, nonsensical plot that also includes evil Russians, serial killers, extrasensory perception and tranquilizers.
All that’s missing from this ripped-from-the-headlines extravaganza are Lindsay, Britney and Brangelina, leading one to believe – and hope – they will be at the core of Carter’s next sequel, “The X-Files: Make Them Go Away.”
In the meantime, we’re stuck with “I Want to Believe,” a leaden procedural in which Mulder, now living a Unibomber life in the snowy mountains of West Virginia, and Scully, a pediatrician who, like the name of her resident hospital has become a Lady of Perpetual Sorrow, are called out of retirement by the bureau to help solve the disappearance of a female agent.
Working with the lead investigator, Amanda Peet’s Dakota Whitney (curiously attired in gaping blouses), and a convicted pedophile priest with ESP, capriciously named Father Joe (a superb Billy Connolly under a frock of wild hair), Mulder and Scully trudge through ice, snow and contrivance in search of clues and redemption.
Carter, who co-wrote the script with Frank Spotnitz, asks that I reveal no more, but that’s somewhat silly considering there’s not much else to say other than the movie strongly adheres to the conventions of episodic TV, albeit those of a series that long ago lost its relevance.
And while Carter is great at raising concepts and ideas sure to spawn endless morality debates, as a writer and a director the only arguments he’s likely to spark are the ones over which ‘X-Files” movie is the worse: this one, or 1998’s “Fight the Future.”
At least the new one stays within the confines of reality, which is both its strength and its weakness; because by keeping it real, Carter limits himself on how high he can ratchet up the action. Disappointingly, it’s not very high, with nary a car chase or explosion in sight, all replaced with reams of stilted dialogue.
The performances, though, are, for the most part, top-notch, with Duchovny slaying with witty one-liners, Anderson making brainy look sexy and Connolly wringing empathy for a mournful monster.
It’s a shame Carter wastes their fine efforts in service of a story that’s neither interesting nor insightful – just silly and cliché. And as much as I wanted to believe, I just couldn’t escape my indifference toward a production that wants to celebrate open-minded individuals yet blatantly panders to the mindless masses.
The Patriot Ledger