Sunday, July 27, 2008

I Want to Believe That There is a Better Film In This Franchise's Future

It should be noted, before I go into this review, that I was never a huge X-Files fanatic. The closest I got was during the shows first 4-5 seasons, when I think I watched every new episode as it aired. I didn't join any clubs, write any fan fiction, or read any message boards about it, but I watched it all. I remember watching a few episodes with my grandfather, but it wasn't really his thing and eventually it was just me, in the dark, watching some of the scariest television I'd seen at that point in my life. But then, around the time the first film came out, I started to drift away. I would watch the show if I was home on a Sunday night, or if it was in syndication and I happened across it, but I stopped following the increasingly labyrinthine mythology. And then, for no good reason I can recall, I started watching again on it's last season. And for awhile, because I was so lost, the show fooled me into thinking it was more intelligent than it really was. In the end, I never blindly enjoyed the entire series, the way I will admit to doing with Twin Peaks, but it was always fun to sit down and watch a frequently creepy hour of television.

With that in mind, I think it's safe to say that my expectations were at a sufficiently low level for me to enjoy this film. I've read all the reviews from critics who were big fans of the show, and how this is a letdown after so long a wait, but I like to think I'm a bit more clear-eyed. After the first film, and the screaming nosedive the show took in it's final season(I will lay none of this blame on Robert Patrick, who did a fine job with a shit role), and the Seinfeld-esque clip show of a finale, I wasn't expecting too much. In the end, I think The X-Files: I Want To Believe can basically be described as a not-bad, but not-great episode.

Set, apparently, six years after the show ended(which would make it pretty much set today), the new X-Files movie finds Mulder living in the middle of nowhere, still meticulously clipping strange newspaper headlines and pinning them to his walls. Scully is a doctor at a catholic hospital, caring for a young boy who has a condition for which there is no cure. The FBI coerces Scully into tracking down Mulder(who's been hiding from the since they put him on trial in the series finale) to help with a case involving a kidnapped agent. In return they'll grant him a full pardon, although for the life of me I can't remember what crimes he was accused of, or why he ran away. The reason they were called in on this particular case is because the FBI's main lead comes from an ex-priest who claims to be having visions from God about the victims. The ex-priest is played by Billy Connely- even when he acts as grim and dour as he does in this film- and is a convicted pedophile, having molested 27 boys.

So here we have a pedophile priest, full of self loathing and practically forcing himself to believe God can forgive him. Scully, incongruously full of doubt and skepticism about the supernatural(9 years on the show and she still doubts Mulder and gives him the 'you're so crazy' look when he talks about psychics?), but also looking for validation for her own belief in God. A new FBI agent(played by Amanda Peet) who hopes that the priest is for real, and idolizes Mulder. And of course Mulder, who of course jumps to the most outlandish and ridiculous explanations before even considering something logical. Is the title of the movie making sense yet? Everyone in this movie- at least the four leads- is searching for proof that their beliefs are the right ones.

Thematically this fits in with the shows constant search for answers, but other than that it's hard to tell what really makes this an X-Files movie. It almost seems as if the filmmakers, impatient after years of aborted attempts, decided to take a pre-existing script and change the character names to "Mulder" and "Scully". The film is characterized by a distinct lack of supernatural events, and the ad campaign does everything it can to avoid this. That scene in the trailer where Billy Connely rises from the snow with black goo running out of his eyes? I immediately thought of the "Black Oil", a thought that was reinforced by a new "Black Oil" box set being released. Well, turns out he was just crying normal old tears of blood(a phrase I never thought I would use), and they digitally increased the amount and changed the color for the ads. Knowing how detail oriented some of the X-Files fans I can't help but think it was a deliberate attempt to garner more intense fan interest. Also, that scene where some dude is running away through a dark room, and he makes a dramatic leap while emitting a soft blue light? Also digitally altered. It was just a normal dude running from the feds. In fact, forget any mention of aliens in this film(aside from a quick reference to Mulder's sister), as the villains this time out are harvesting organs. And they're Russian, which I suppose is alien, in a different sense of the word.

Also, watching Mulder and Scully's sexual chemistry, which was once electrifying, is now like watching your parents trade sloppy kisses in front of your best high school friends. It was slightly uncomfortable. Don't get me wrong, there were more than a few times where I just had to smile because it was so cool to be watching some new X-Files after so long, but for the most part the film was a sluggish and mediocre.

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