Friday, July 25, 2008
Movie review: The X-Files: I Want to Believe
It's a case of divided loyalties and severed body parts, with a psychic pedophile priest thrown in for good measure.
That may be the question you ask yourself about an hour into The X-Files: I Want to Believe, as the FBI investigation into the disappearance of a field agent turns up a collection of neatly-severed body parts.
The guys I refer to are scripters Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz (long-time collaborators on X-Files productions both filmed and televised), and here's my contribution to the sort of synchronicity that the two-headed creative beast that is Carter-Spotnitz might be looking for as a hook to attract their conspiracy theory-loving viewership to theaters: actor Billy Connolly, who plays convicted pedophile and psychic-on-FBI-retainer Father Joseph Crissman in the present movie, also acted in Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, which was filmed at... wait for it... CASTLE HOWARD, the setting for one of the other movies opening this week, Brideshead Revisited.
(Cue the six-note X-Files musical tagline.)
Now that that's off the ol' chest, let's talk more specifically about I Want to Believe. Unlike the first X-Files motion picture (teased as "Fight the Future"), this one is far less ambitious, story-wise. Where that film tried to bind up the whole UFO alien / U.S. government conspiracy thread with a neatly-tied ribbon, this outing finds our disenfranchised heroes (Mulder and Scully) getting pulled back from the obscurity of civilian life into a rather prosaic X-File affair that might easily have served as a lesser episode of the TV series.
Scully (Gillian Anderson, looking pretty tasty with her flame-red hair cascading down over her snow parka) has spent the decade since our last episodic encounter concentrating entirely on doctoring, working as a neurosurgeon at a private Catholic hospital; her current problem patient is a child (which would technically make him a problem child, I suppose) named Christian (Marco Niccoli). Young Christian has a rare brain disease that is practically untreatable, and though he's shown to be a charming little kid reclining there in his hospital bed, soliciting all our sympathies, he gets none from the doctors on the hospital board who are about to vote him out of the facility and into hospice care. It's medical practice by committee - and a sectarian religious committee, at that.
Meanwhile, Mulder (David Duchovny - Things We Lost in the Fire, Californication) hangs out in his basement study clipping stories from newspapers - the dead tree kind - and generally going bat-shit stir-crazy, crunching on corn puffs and launching #2 pencils into the ceiling tiles. Oh, and he's still wanted by the FBI for whatever under-the-radar lowjinks he got up to on his last assignment. (Who can keep track?)
Suddenly, the Bureau wants them both back - well, they want Mulder back, anyway, and since Scully knows where to find him they sort of need her back by default. Seems there's this missing FBI agent, and the only approach with any promise of leading to her recovery involves a psychic aging ex-priest with long stringy gray hair, a scraggly beard and coke-bottle spectacles. As mentioned earlier, he's recently led a team of searchers to the icy repository of dozens of body parts, all from different individuals.
Father Joe, aside from being a convicted (though repentant) altar boy assaulter, has done enough to demonstrate his apparent psychic insight into the circumstances of the agent's abduction (along with intimations of her present whereabouts) that the lead agent on the hunt - Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) - feels Mulder's expertise in paranormal matters might prove helpful. Thus the invitation for him to rejoin the fold.
Despite his recent bout of hermit-hood (during which he's cultivated a fine Ted Kasczynski beard), Mulder can still sling wisecracks like a veteran office worker, and these constitute some of the most entertaining parts of the movie. Also extremely clever is a throwaway scene during which the theme music is reprised while the camera focuses on a certain portrait on the wall of the government facility. Grand high weirdness, though all too true.
While the story behind the missing agent (and the found body parts) resolves itself eventually into something adequately bizarre (if less than jaw-dropping), the sub plot involving Scully's Hippocratic dilemma provides for pithier thematic stuff. When all is said and done - as it is after 105 moderately entertaining minutes - the mystery we most care about is the medical one. Scully steals the show in the last act by basically telling everyone who thinks she's taking the wrong treatment approach to go screw themselves. Including Christian's parents.
Not unlike Mulder's modus operandi, now that we think on it.
As for the setting, we're told these events are unfolding in West Virginia, but judging by the background mountains (and - later - the IMDB notes) what we're really glimpsing through the almost constant driving snow are images of British Columbia. Things seem spookier in the snow - it confers a menacing quality on the night-time landscape. Plus, in terms of contemporary movie-going opportunities, sitting in a chilly theater watching people wade through frosty white drifts is a great antidote to the 100+ degree weather waiting outside in the parking lot.
Top-notch movie entertainment? Not even. A diverting couple of ours reacquainting ourselves with old TV friends? You betcha!
BUT CAN SHE DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT?: "I worry about you and the effects of long-term isolation." - Scully to Mulder, staring at the pencils in his ceiling
DANGEROUS QUESTION TO ASK A SEX OFFENDER: "Can you show us how you do it?" - Mulder to Father Joe, re. his psychic visions
MOST DISAPPOINTING REVELATION: Government agents still drive gas-guzzling SUVs