Friday, June 3, 2011

X-Files: I Want to Believe

I am wrapping up reviewing the entire run of The X-Files at Eye of Polyphemus, so it seems like a good idea to review the last bit of The X-Files, I Want to Believe. It sounds good in theory, at any rate. In execution is another matter altogether. You would think the film was thrown together in a few weeks because everyone involved was desperate for a paycheck.

The film takes place six years after the series finale. Mulder and Scully are living together on a farm somewhere in the mid-Atlantic. Scully has a job as a surgeon at a Catholic hospital Mulder stays at home in isolation thanks to his death sentence. He spends his days collecting newspaper clippings od suspected paranormal activity. Through Scully, the FBI requests his consultation with a psychic former priest who claims he can help find a missing FBI agent. Muler is reluctant, but eventually acquiesces when he is reminded of Samantha, his kidnapped sister.

Thus begins a very small story about suddenly very small characters. By small, I do not mean intimately personal. I mean tiny, as in two lackluster episodes of the series edited together and released to theaters. Both Mulder and Scully appear to be at the lowest points in their lives. He is a hermit who rarely leaves his home office. She is a burnt out surgeon who acts like one more point of stress could send her into a nervous breakdown. The series had ended on a less than positive note, but mercy, what darkness the two descended into while we were apart.

The fate of our two favorite former Fbi agents is not the only dark element. The priest, played by one of Europe’s most vulgar exports, comedian Billy Connelly, is a convicted pedophile seeking redemption by helping locate the missing FBI agent. What he helps the FBI find is random, severed body parts buried in the snow. Father Joe rattles Scully’s religious faith, not only with his past crimes, but how he inadvertently appears to be guiding her in a decision to operate on a terminal patient of hers using treatment derived from embryonic stem cell research, something she is doing in spite of trepidations from the devoutly Christian parents and the hospital itself. Rather than enrich the story, the overly gruesome gore and disturbing treatment of Christianity are thrown in just to make the audience squirm. Why does Father Joe have to be a former pedophile? Why does he have to inadvertently encourage Scully to pursue a medical treatment for her patient that many Christians object? Other than to encourage discomfort, there is not one. Take those elements out, and the movie does not suffer. \

The heart of the film, as much as it has one, is redemption. Mulder feels alive again pursuing a paranormal case which involves saving someone. He quickly loses his animosity for the FBI as his old obsessive personality resurfaces. Father Joe earns his own bit of redemption for his part, although you do not want to give him his due in consideration of what he has done. For that, we stick with Scully’s opinion that nothing could redeem a serial pedophile.

The villain of I Want to Believe is a Russian neurologist who is working on head transplants, but thus far failing miserably. He is not a memorable villain in the slightest. We do not even see much of him until the last act when Mulder has tracked down his latest kidnap victim to his isolated farmhouse/laboratory. I would rank him in the lower tier of monster of the week villains of I Want to Believe was an episode of the series. That it is a movie forces me to downgrade him even more.

Here is the real head scratching element of I Want to Believe. the story of Mulder hunting for the kidnap victims converges with Scully’s agonizing over treatment for her patient when she stumbles across old news coverage of the neorologist’s illegal experiments in Russia while researching stem cell treatment online. It dawns on her to seek out skinner at that point, and go looking for Mulder. He is in trouble by that point, anyway. The convergence of the two stories is hinted to be divine guidance prompted in some way by Father Joe. It really is not all that convincing. Shoddy writing is more like it.

Some elements from the television series are thrown in haphazardly to remind you what this is all about. I counted a Clyde Bruckman name drop, Scully complaining that Mulder is obsessed with saving Samantha by proxy, Mulder complaining Scully is determined to save her patient because she reminds him of their son who she gave up for adoption, and Mulder looking suspiciously at a portrait of George W. Bush, a suspected super soldier. There may have been more, but those jumped out at me. I was disappointed Mitch Pileggi only showed up for ten minutes towards the end of the film. It not only violates narrative rules to bring in a pivotal character at that late a point in the story, but he and the character deserve better.

Amanda Peet and Xzibit show up as two forgettable FBI agents. Peet has a little frush on Mulder, but gets killed halfway through the film. Xzibit has anger management problems while being astoundingly uncooperative throughout. His animosity for Mulder is so inexplicably over the top it is cartoonish. What the heck does he care if Mulder joins the case? Things are at a dead end anyway. These are two very poor characters. Skinner could have been running the show from the beginning without them and would have been an improvement. Heck, what about Doggett and Reyes? They were not that popular, but they were miles ahead of the new characters.

If you are a devoted X-Phile, by al means see I Want to Believe. Once is all you will ever want. I would consider it a bad two part episode of the series, however. Seeing the characters you love again will suit you on some level, although I was disappointed in the direction Mulder and Scully had taken in the six years between the end of the series and the movie. At least there is a happy ending if you stuck around through the end credits. If you are just looking for a movie to watch, skip it. I Want to Believe is poorly crafted and visibly cheap.

As an X-Phile, I am still holding out hope for a third film which will end the alien invasion mythology. I have doubts these days it will happen thanks to the lukewarm I Want to Believe. I did not need the film to deal with the mythology in order to enjoy it, but I expected a far better monster of the week story than it is. The movie is a terrible way to end the franchise, if it winds up being the concluding chapter.

Rating: ** (out of 5)