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Because it’s outré to merely slap a number two or three at the end of a movie title, second-go-round films often come up with clever designations to disguise their sequel-ness or give the audience a heads-up as to what they’ll be seeing. For example, Pirates of the Caribbean has a couple, Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End, there’s 28 Weeks Later, Aliens, The Road Warrior, the entire Star Wars/Indiana Jones canon, The Bride of Frankenstein, Dawn of the Dead and that little independent film called The Dark Knight. Chris Carter, creator of the super successful sci-fi television show has called the second film based on his series, X-Files: I Want to Believe. Me, I just want to care.

Admittedly, I never watched the show, yet I found the first film, X-Files: The Truth is Out There entertaining enough in a lo-fi way. It bore a vigor and can-do energy that was out prove naysayers wrong for doubting the worth of the feature simply because it was based on a highly popular TV show with a rabid cult following. Sadly, none of that energy has survived the decade since that first film and the passage of time has not been this film’s friend. One the side of good there’s one heck of a performance by Billy Connolly as a fallen, pedophile priest besieged with alleged visions of woman being kidnapped. There’s also Gillian Anderson, who has most of the screen time as the eternally uncertain Dana Scully, once an FBI Agent, now a pediatric doctor fighting insurmountable odds to find a cure for a stricken patient to whom she’s become attached. The shadow of her adventures in the FBI is never far from Scully as an agent turns up at the Catholic hospital she practices in and asks Scully to locate her old running buddy, Fox Mulder. An agent has been kidnapped and the FBI has retained a psychic/profiler of dubious origin and reliability: When he’s not busy locating the happenings of the wicked, Father Joe spends his time in a voluntary confinement for sinners of his particular stripe. As a child molester, Father Joe’s word and visions are doubted at every turn (- though how he would have known anything about the kidnapping in the first place is never posed), former Agent Mulder is brought back from disgraced exile to suss out the truth about the fallen cleric and aid the FBI in their search for the missing agent. Mulder jumps into the case like a fish into water and Scully doesn’t like it one bit. Dragged back into a world of despair and darkness she wants desperately to be away from, Scully’s new devotions to her work, particularly in the case of the young boy she’s trying to save take precedence over the FBI’s efforts to rescue the agent and Mulder’s pleas to have her at his side to solve the case.

Steering clear of the little green men and cigarette smoking fellows that were so important to the series, X-Files: I Just Want to Believe is an allegory of faith, lost and reclaimed. There’s a simplistic earnestness about the ham-fisted way the movie’s message is pounded into the heads of the audience over and over; the fallen priest’s visions complete with stigmata, Mulder’s remarkable naiveté about the FBI’s regard for both him and Father Joe, Scully’s tribulations with the mean priest who wants to give up and ship her patient out of their hospital to die elsewhere, that almost makes one feel sorry for how lacking the film is. It’s obvious the “don’t give up” mantra is well-intentioned and timed for this age of global doubt and unhappiness. The film’s big problem is delivering that positive message in a fairly slapdash B-movie format, replete with performances that varied from wooden to outright atrocious from all but the aforementioned Connolly and Anderson, and a storyline that mixes equal parts James Whale and Roger Corman. Outside of some gory Frankenstein-esque special effects, there’s not a lot to recommend why this should have been a feature at all. It could’ve played just as well on one of the cable channels. There are no showstopping moments and a decided lack of wow, but for Billy’s Connolly’s fine work, which feels wasted in such an undeserving, lackluster vehicle. On the other end of the spectrum, Xzibit is cast as an FBI agent whose only purpose is to express his continual disdain for the antics of Father Joe and Mulder with a perpetual constipated glower and endlessly repeating “I don’t believe this.” One can make allowances that acting is not Xzibit’s main gig, but what’s Amanda Peet’s excuse? Rant alert: How does this woman keep getting so much work? Honestly, I’ve never seen an actor featured in so many bombs get chance after chance as Peet has. For the few successful films she’s been in there’s an entire DVD store of turkeys behind it. Here, as with most of the things I’ve seen her in, she manages to overact with her few scenes, appearing inappropriately overheated when approaching Mulder for his assistance and fidgeting in the background in scenes where she has nothing to do. I’ll end my kvetch by commending Chris Carter for one particular stand up and clap moment.

I suppose the fans who adored the TV series’ nine-year run will find more to like than I did. Despite Gillian Anderson’s tempered rendering, one can’t help but find Scully’s nagging, vociferous doubt grating after the first hour, and I wondered if the entire series had been as shrill and haranguing. There is a certain Dragnet-type charm to the flat delivery of the repartee between Anderson and David Duchovny as Scully’s former partner in work and current partner in life, Fox Mulder, and there are sparks of real charm between them. The biggest laugh of the night occurs early on in an odd sight gag with the two waiting in a doorway of an FBI office framed on either side by portraits of George W. Bush and J. Edgar Hoover when the X-Files theme suddenly chimes in out of nowhere and Mulder and Scully just turn and stare are each other. Carter is perfectly aware of who’s coming to see this film and not knowing very much about the iconology, even my breath caught momentarily at a close up of a mysterious puff of smoke {steam?}materialising in one scene. I could see there were a large amount of items placed around Mulder’s office for the devoted to recognise (- a dish of sunflower seeds, a photo of Mulder’s sister, his I Want to Believe UFO poster) and the proceedings are kicked up a notch by a last minute appearance by a fan favourite as a big, wet kiss from Carter to the faithful.

I just wished I was in on more of the fun.

 

~ Mighty Ganesha

July 25th, 2008

 

 

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