x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

Cinema review Ten years after Mulder and Scully's last outing, Tom Charity asks if the magic has gone.

The X Files: I Want to Believe, starring David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, attempts to resurrect the cult favourite franchise.
The X Files: I Want to Believe, starring David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, attempts to resurrect the cult favourite franchise.

After nine seasons (1993-2002) and one previous movie (1998), there may not be much left to say about the paranormal investigators Dana Scully (the rationalist sceptic) and Fox Mulder (the "believer").This belated follow-up attempts to resurrect the franchise but signs of imaginative life are so few and far between. All but the most diehard fans will wish they had left it well enough alone.

Scully (Gillan Anderson) is now practicing medicine at a Roman Catholic hospital and spends an inordinate amount of screen time preoccupied with a young patient with a condition that is incurable. Or is it? The FBI reaches out to a bearded and reclusive Mulder (David Duchovny) through her. An agent has been abducted, and a psychic paedophile ex-priest, Father Joe (Billy Connolly), claims to have visions that may lead to her rescue. Apparently the bureau wants Mulder to see what he makes of him.

Scully, of course, is unimpressed. As well she might be. The storyline would serve for a throwaway TV instalment - what the fans call a "monster of the week" episode. It scarcely seems worth reassembling the team for such a routine assignment. Is the creepy Father Joe getting messages from God or is he in bed with the bad guys (most prominently, a suspiciously ill-shaven Russian in a beaten up snow plough)?

The answers may not be definitive, but the X-Files creator Chris Carter milks the questions for as much significance as they will bear, and more. His clipped, elliptical televisual style doesn't give the movie much in the way of atmosphere - it's ostensibly set in Virginia in the dead of winter, but was filmed in British Columbia, Canada. He fumbles crucial developments in the Mulder-Scully relationship, the meat of which must be lying on the cutting room floor (perhaps awaiting a DVD special edition). Meanwhile, in classic X-Files fashion, the sleazy abduction case more or less solves itself through mysterious ways: a mixture of inspired guesswork, divine coincidence and criminal stupidity. As for Scully's sick kid, his parents get itchy when she starts to Google stem cell research.

But, oh, the clichés! "What have you done?" wonders Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet), one of the bureau's less perceptive operatives, after Mulder shaves off his beard. "I want a car ready," Mulder demands of the FBI, as if they had to build it from scratch. "A vision if ever I had one," murmurs Holy Joe when Scully shows up on his doorstep. (Connelly's tremulous performance is another sore point, though he's beaten to the wooden spoon award by the rapper Xzibit, who glowers petulantly in the corner as another inept FBI lackey, Agent Drummy.)

A sharp turn towards the gruesome comes too late in the day to save this grisly allegory from drowning in its own turgid self-importance. The running time isn't exorbitant (104 minutes) but it feels far longer. The truth is this cult has run its course - too bad it's come to such a sorry end.