Hard to believe, but it’s been a full decade since the last “X-Files” picture, “Fight the Future,” hit the big screen to enthusiastic response, plunging the then-running television series even further into ferocious alien disturbances and its own vast sci-fi mythmaking quest. It’s a different world for the “X-Files” brand these days, and “I Want to Believe” reflects the change of pop culture weather, turning inward to produce a spooky drama for the fans this time around, not multiplex mass acceptance.
When an F.B.I. agent goes missing after a violent attack, the bureau (including Amanda Peet and Xzibit) turns to Father Joseph Crissman (Billy Connolly), a convicted pedophile with psychic abilities who can sniff out the body parts left behind by the unknown assailant. Finding a dead end in the case, attention is focused on Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), the former “X-Files” believer turned recluse after being stripped of his credibility. Mulder is reluctant to assist in the investigation, and probes ex-partner Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) for advice. With the clock ticking, the duo is pulled into the case when a second person is abducted.
“Fight the Future” led off with a literal bang before assembling a tight, forceful tale of conspiracy theories, aliens, bees, and black oil, enthusiastically playing into established “X-Files” parameters while remaining a well-executed horror/action creation to please those new to the labyrinthine franchise. “I Want to Believe” isn’t as generous this time around to the newbies, with series creator Chris Carter grabbing directorial control and crafting a feature that stands out from the congested summer blockbuster environment by remaining alarmingly unflappable and looking to provoke not with ghouls, but with studious questions pitting science vs. religion.
Now this is the part where readers will surely tense up and hold their breath hoping I won’t spoil the movie. I wouldn’t dare. However, I can write that “Believe” is a provocative picture that gives serious weight to critical medical and religious issues, using Scully’s role as a skeptical medical expert at a professional turning point to broaden the feature’s thematic search for faith and all its unbecoming perversions. It’s not profound sermonizing, but it eats away at a majority of the running time, leaving Scully and Mulder gasping for belief as they try to hold steady to the controversial paths they’re drawn to.
It’s a captivating exploration for an “X-Files” film, but does it equate to a rollicking time at the movies? Not exactly.
Carter has made a commitment to a more cerebral adventure for his characters, fixating on the discomfort between Mulder and Scully as they assume their old responsibilities. This uneasiness extends to the screenplay, which is heavy with expositional speeches, rendering the film stiff and overindulged at certain points. Since the television series was killed in 2002, it’s to be expected that the producers would find it difficult to recharge rusted geek zeal, trying to rekindle the poised passion between Mulder and Scully, but often leaving the film slavish to discussion, not action. Carter, who’s never directed a feature film before, almost seems terrified to spin “Believe” into something befitting a traditional widescreen release, perhaps fearing any deviation from the rhythms of the T.V. show would quickly spiral out of his control.
The lack of deliberate thrills isn’t a complaint, just an occasional mild annoyance, with “Believe” sticking with spooky happenings and faltered interpersonal communication. It’s a mysterious film, building dread through brutal kidnapping, displays of Bryukhonenko-inspired horrors, and the Crissman character, who Carter employs as the critical figure of eerie face-value judgment. It takes nearly an hour for “Believe” to work up a sweat; the film favors the tempo of the series, not the bombast of the screen. Fans are sure to drink up every last frame. The less inclined might be checking their watches with increasing regularity.
While I wasn’t electrified by “Believe,” I was immensely satisfied with Carter’s intent, and his appreciation for Duchovny and Anderson, who really shines as Scully is dragged through a vigorous questioning of self. “I Want to Believe” is not a feature that provides instant results; instead, even with a handful of faults, it gets under the skin, offering the faithful a rewarding odyssey with these unlikely knights of the unknown.