I wanted to believe. But with his big-screen blowup of his great and weird television series The X-Files, Chris Carter has turned me into a reluctant skeptic. Baggy, draggy, oddly timed and strangely off the mark, The X-Files: I Want to Believe is the generally bad-news follow-up to the show's first feature-film incarnation, The X-Files. Released in 1998 and directed by Rob Bowman, one of the show's regular frontmen, that earlier film was a seamless translation of the series's paranoid vibe and trademark geek cool. The series supersized nicely, filling the larger spatial dimensions by staying true to its conceptual parameters.
Not that it isn't swell to see Mulder and Scully, the Nick and Nora of paranormal freakouts - aka David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson - once again trading dark, searching looks under the cover of the long night, or even by bright eerie day. Mulder may be wearing a bushy beard (Carter builds up the character's entrance so dramatically I expected something rather more leprous), and Scully looks thinner, more angled, a touch weary. But it's still them, the sexy renegade agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation who, for almost a decade, poked into strange goings-on, partly driven by Mulder's belief that his sister had been kidnapped by extraterrestrials and partly by a work relationship that became something more.
That relationship still simmers, though at a reduced temperature. There's nothing stirring the air between Mulder and Scully, who, having left the bureau, come across as unmoored and unfocused, even when they're working on the outlandish criminal case that drags them back into the twilight zone. A similar lack of urgency characterizes the movie, which despite its yowling dogs, barking Russians, screaming women, swelling choral voices and moody cinematography by Bill Roe - which turns even dark blue a deeper shade of black - never finds a sustainable pulse. Carter knows how to grab your attention visually, but the amalgam of trashy thriller cliches that he has compiled with Frank Spotnitz, another series regular, creates its own deadening effect. It's no wonder Mulder and Scully seem so diffident.
The X-Files: I Want to Believe
Directed by: Chris Carter
Starring: David Duchovny
(Fox Mulder), Gillian Anderson (Dana Scully), Amanda Peet (Dakota Whitney), Billy Connolly (Father Joseph Crissman), Alvin (Xzibit) Joiner (Agent Mosley Drummy)
Running time: 104 minutes
Taiwan release: Today
The first X-Files movie, released before the show ended, added nothing substantive. It came off like a contract clause writ large, a shot at a potential franchise. The new film, Carter's debut as a feature director, adds even less, but it won't hurt the show's legacy, at least among die-hard fans who appreciated it as a wittily sustained pop take on what the historian Richard Hofstadter has called "the paranoid style in American politics." In the years since the show's demise, US politics has grown all the more paranoid, an observation that Carter - who throws out an easy laugh about US President George W. Bush to no real purpose - might have run with instead of stumbling in less interesting directions.