Sunflower seeds, references to Luther Lee Boggs, Clyde Bruckman, Mulder and Scully’s baby William, Mulder’s deceased sister, Samantha, and an appearance by former boss Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) are all what Chris Carter deems necessary for the fans that have waited six years for the return of “The X-Files,” give or take a few other shout-outs (and an apparent appearance by him) that I may have missed. From the fan’s perspective, myself included, “The X-Files: I Want to Believe” is akin to one of the stand-alone episodes of the series, where “the mythology,” the government alien conspiracy, was set aside. A lot of those episodes have been phenomenal, but this movie is not nearly on that level.
The story, by Carter and fellow series stalwart Frank Spotnitz, happens six years later, long after Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) are no longer in the FBI. Naturally, the agency is happy to not have Mulder around, and the feeling is mutual. Predictably, the two have changed to some degree. Mulder sports a thick beard, prefers isolation, and cuts out articles from newspapers, such as one announcing the closing of a paranormal unit elsewhere. Scully works at a hospital where decisions by priests trumps medical wisdom, as she learns when she’s trying to save the life of a boy with a rare degenerative brain disease and comes upon a potential cure using stem cells. Ballsy, yes. But the entire film focuses on matters of faith and trust. Scully tries to retain her faith in the face of a priest who refuses to hear any more words on the treatment of the boy, deciding that he should be in a hospice instead. But she perseveres, though as with many moments of the film that may require a second viewing, it’s not entirely clear how the operation still goes forward.
That’s not where the engine of the film lies, however. FBI agents Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) and the very reluctant and terrifically-named Mosley Drummy (Xzibit) require Mulder’s help on a case involving a missing FBI agent. Whitney urgently wants to find this agent, Drummy goes to Scully in order to find Mulder, and Mulder joins the case because of Father Joe (Billy Connolly), a former pedophile priest who does not deny his actions, nor apologizes for them. Scully is disgusted at the man for what he did and wonders why he should be believed. Mulder is skeptical, because Father Joe has psychic visions that indicate that the missing agent is still alive. And devoted fans are well aware of Mulder’s feelings on psychics.
Stack one snow-digging scene atop another and you get how many times FBI men are dragged out at the whim of one of Father Joe’s visions. Billy Connolly plays Joe in a manner that keeps interest. He’s absolutely convinced of the reality of his visions, even though at times it seems like he’s just pulling them “out of his a*s,” as is said by Mulder. He simply closes his eyes and begins describing. It’s certainly not like Luther Lee Boggs (Brad Dourif) in the episode “Beyond the Sea” where he’s so intense when describing his visions. Scully doesn’t take to his beliefs, but goes to him later because of something he said, and also because of Mulder insisting on remaining involved in the case, despite her veiled threat that perhaps they should break up, because she doesn’t want the “darkness” anymore.
Father Joe’s visions involve body parts found in ice and leads to a doctor putting body parts together in order to lengthen fading life, especially for one man who wants his lover to remain alive and has a certain connection to Father Joe. That part of the story just goes through the motions without much felt, with Whitney becoming more desperate to find the missing agent, and how another woman is grabbed up for body parts, but there’s nothing to feel in this story. Nothing to get involved in nor a desire to learn more, not even wanting to know how the body-part doctor even begins to think like he does. As a comparison, I’ve begun watching the series again because it’s yet another summer in which I alternate between this and the James Bond series, and am currently at the first-season episode, “Young at Heart,” where a presumed-dead jewelry store robber that Mulder sent to prison years ago (but at the expense of a fellow FBI agent) may still be alive. In the episode, we get a sense of Mulder’s history with this man and his tactics are equally interesting. We keep guessing and analyzing as we watch.
Even six years later, Carter should have come up with a better main story, something more involving. There is, but as it does not take up the entire film, there’s some waiting time before getting back to it, which is the nature of Mulder and Scully’s relationship. Scully is only willing to go so far in this case; Mulder wants to go even farther. There’s tension there that is performed with much genuine feeling by Duchovny and Anderson. Carter doesn’t go overboard with their relationship, which is the smart thing to have done, considering how deftly it was also handled in the series. Just let fans work their way through it. I like that he at least allows that much.
The other actors are mixed in their usefulness to the events here. Amanda Peet clearly took on her role after the failure of Aaron Sorkin’s “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” and why not, since a movie based on a storied TV series can offer lots more exposure and help redeem oneself. But with Carter’s insistence on making the story as complex as possible without really triggering any interest, Whitney is left without much personality. She mentions to Mulder that she’s “not exactly the most popular girl at the FBI,” because of having requested his presence on this case and that’s as much as we get out of her. She’s read his case files, but whether she really believes what he believes would have made for a better portrayal. As for Xzibit, imagine Scully, but with a stone-cold mindset of cynical disbelief. Now attach that to every scene he’s in, with his role only proving its minor worth in leading up to the return of Skinner, who would seem to be higher up in the FBI hierarchy now, because it’s heard that he’s considered the “big leagues.” Director of the FBI now, maybe? Skinner appears for a few key scenes, then he’s gone, but at least he’s there.
It’s a giddy-enough feeling to have Mulder and Scully back, to see what they’ve been up to, even though the beard is too obvious on Mulder. When he finally shaves, it’s like yelling, “HEY LOOK! MULDER’S BACK!” But now Chris Carter, please Chris Carter, bring us X-Files fans back to where we belong. If there is to be another movie, and there damn well better be, return us to our beloved mythology. Give us what made us watch “The X-Files” often, and still today on DVD and in reruns. You can have your mainstream audiences, but we got here first.