Thursday, August 7, 2008

"X-Files: I Want to Believe" Movie Review

Fri Jul 25, 2008 at 01:34:54 PM PDT

I still vaguely remember the night in 1993, fiddling around with my mono T.V.'s dog-ear antennas, trying to find something to watch, and happening across this show on Fox. Spooky music, F.B.I. agents, aliens, UFOs, that guy from "Red Shoes Diaries", and this amazing, unknown redheaded actress (even at 13 I had this thing for smart redheads), and I wondered, What is THIS!? This is science fiction T.V. show, on a -- at the time -- minor network, that had nothing to do with Star Trek.

What I had stumbled upon was the very first episode of the very first season of "The X-Files". A show that defined the iconography of my youth and helped in some strange way to set me on a path that would take me to Hollywood at the age of 21. A show that, despite the disaster of its final two seasons, and the wet carp to the cranium that was John Doggett, I harbor a lot of fond memories of.

So going to see the new X-Files movie was not a choice. It was automatic.

SPOILER WARNING! Do Not Read Past the Fold if You Don't Want Spoilers!

Which turned out to be an automatically bad decision. There are times when I wait for a movie to come out on DVD and think to myself, Gee, I really should have seen that in the theaters. In the case of "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" if I had waited for the DVD I think I would have held this film in a little higher regard, because ultimately Direct to DVD is sort of where it belongs.

You'd think in the wake of eight years of George Bush and real life conspiracies by our own government (GITMO, torture, the nexus of politics and terrorism, warrant-less wiretaps, fudging intelligence to get the U.S. into foreign wars) there would be fertile ground for a movie based on a show like "The X-Files", which was already centered around an innate distrust of authority, to take root in. Well, yeah it would be, but that is not this movie. Outside of a cheap shot at Same Sex Marriage and an attempt to minimize institutional pedophilia by the Catholic Church there are no politics in "The X-Files" and precious little conspiracy either.

"X-Files: I Want to Believe" in fact is an effort to get back to the "core" (or at least the Core as Chris Carter sees it) of the original show and go back to those simple Monster of the Week episodes that the original T.V. show did so well. In fact, the entire premise of this film seems to be an lift and extension of a Season One episode of "The X-Files" entitled "Beyond the Sea".

Both are essentially the story of hideous criminals, imprisoned by society, only to be cursed with a psychic connection to a a new killer and his victims that gives them visions that no one believes because, afterall, they are reprobate villains to begin with. But where the original Glen Morgan and James Wong T.V. script for "Beyond the Sea" was a tight, arresting forty five minute thriller with a monstrous Brad Douriff (as serial killer Luther Boggs) in the center of a psychic mindfuck, Chris Carter's re-interpretation is a lazy and disjointed two hour snore-fest with a lifeless Billy Connelly drifting towards the bottom like a marshmellow dropped into a not quite set jello salad.

Connelly plays Father Joe, a de-frocked Priest, who, as Scully is quick to remind us, "buggered" thirty seven altar boys, who know lives at some sort of rest home for pedophiles (I'm not kidding) in West Virginia. Of course, a female FBI Agent disappears and Connelly's Father Joe begins having psychic visions of the kidnapped woman. Amanda Peete's Dakota Whitney (yes, apparently in Chris Carter's world the female FBI agents that aren't kidnapped have silly porn star names) and Xzbit are confused, so an approach is made to Dana Scully to bring Fox Mulder out of "retirement" (which means be hold up in a quaint one bedroom house, being Scully's house boy), because, you know ... he's Fox Mulder.

And about five minutes in ... the plot of "X-Files: I Want to Believe" just kind of stops and idles. This is a thriller where nothing much thrilling happens, this is a horror film where nothing much horrifying happens, this is a movie where people just ... Talk a lot and nothing much happens. When you are lucky enough to stumble into a mildly interesting bit of plot progression that progression only serves as an excuse for more talking.

The script for "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" is just plain bad. From the structure to the non-existent progression of the story. I could easily imagine Robert McKee showing X-Files: I Want to Believe at one of his screenwriting seminars as a perfect example of how not to write a script. Ever.

At some point Chris Carter seems to realize that Billy Connelly's Father Joe isn't holding our attention, and the return of Mulder and Scully only goes so far, so he then literally grafts the plot of Frankenstein -- yeah, like Frankenstein Frankenstein -- onto the body of a story that has run out of gas by the hour mark. Only that story goes nowhere either and really doesn't end or climax by the Third Act; more like it thrusts a couple times, rolls over, says goodnight, and then turns out the lights. There is no real sense or conclusion or finality. The story just sort of ... gives up.

I was literally left sitting in the theater saying out loud, That's It?

The problems with "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" extends beyond the constructed on the fly story. The direction is strictly lackluster and would fit more on a T.V. show in the 1990s, then a feature film in 2008. The editing is lax and bloated. And all the supporting characters -- like Amanda Peete and Xzbit's characters -- could've been carved from blocks of wood and had just as much impact on screen as real life actors. Again, that isn't the fault of Amanda Peete or even Xzbit, it is the fault of the hideous script they find themselves imprisoned in.

The only redeeming part of "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" is the reason most diehard fans are going to see it regardless. Mulder and Scully. For all his inability to write a coherent story or give life to supporting characters, Chris Carter still does know how to write Mulder and Scully. And David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson still know how to play Mulder and Scully.

The sexual tension and one-up-man-ship of their T.V. show relationship is largely gone, replaced by this ease of couple-hood. Mulder and Scully are now like the cool couple upstairs that come over every Friday night to smoke weed and watch Netflix with you and your girlfriend. The chemistry is still there. The characters are still there.

But the story that intelligently uses those characters, that chemistry, and still makes you want to believe, is gone. And probably forgotten. "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" sets out to re-capture the series hey-day by trying to emulate great standalone X-Files episodes like "Beyond the Sea", and, instead, only serves as a reminder of the series nadir.

And it is a damn shame too.

Personally I still like think there is still good in "The X-Files" franchise. Much like there was still good in Darth Vader in "Return of the Jedi". But for that good to ever be realized again someone over at 20th Century Fox is going to have to metaphorically pick up Chris Carter and heave him down an open reactor shaft. Or relegate him to Executive Producer status and turn the reigns over to someone a little less in love with the sound of his own ideas.

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