The makers of the new "X-Files" movie have done themselves a disservice in coming up with the elongated title, "The X-Files: I Want to Believe." Really, it just invites a whole bunch of bad jokes which, unfortunately, are justified.
It's easy to imagine how they might go: I want to believe another "X-Files" movie is necessary, 10 years after the first one came out and six years after the pioneering sci-fi series went off the air. I want to believe it's worth my time and money, even if I wasn't a fervent devotee of the TV show. And I want to believe that Mulder and Scully still have the same chemistry they once did _ a big reason the series developed a cult fan base.
Well, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson do slip comfortably back into the roles that made them superstars in the 1990s, but the movie itself from director and "X-Files" series creator Chris Carter never feels like anything more than an extended episode. It lacks the complexity and scope required to rise to a theatrical level; it doesn't challenge us in any new or exciting ways. The big mystery? Just a rehashed urban legend.
In deference to the show's many secrets and twists, we won't give anything away here. We'll just say the plot involves a missing persons case, severed body parts and some creepy hunts and chases through the snow.
In writing the script, Carter and longtime collaborator Frank Spotnitz have come up with a stand-alone story, one that doesn't require expertise in "X-Files" minutiae to follow, although they've also left some nuggets for loyal fans along the way. The title itself is one of them, sorta: It's the phrase on a poster that hung in Fox Mulder's office.
These days, the former FBI agent spends all his time hiding in his office at home, clipping articles about the same kinds of unexplained phenomena he used to investigate and obsessing, still. Meanwhile, the no-nonsense Dana Scully, the doctor he was paired with, is practicing at a hospital. (The appropriately named Our Lady of Sorrows.) But when FBI agents Whitney (a severely thin Amanda Peet) and Drummy (rapper Alvin "Xzibit" Joiner) approach her about finding Mulder to help them track down a missing colleague, she gets dragged back into the fray, too. Billy Connolly co-stars as a fallen priest who may or may not be experiencing psychic visions; he and Anderson, as the ever-doubtful Scully, have a couple of intense exchanges.
But you immediately know it's of no use when Scully says to Mulder: "I'm done chasing monsters in the dark." And that's one of the few compelling parts of "I Want to Believe" _ the fact that these two are once more searching for answers, together, bickering and bantering along the way. Duchovny can still whip out a wicked one-liner, and his character's dark humor is crucial when things threaten to turn too self-serious. Anderson still brings grace and gravitas as his straight-laced foil.
Their work on "The X-Files" turns out to have been the best of both actors' careers _ though Duchovny was great in the little-seen satire "The TV Set," and won a lead-actor Golden Globe this year for "Californication" _ and it is indeed a pleasure to see them team up again. Too bad Carter and Co. couldn't come up with a feature-length film that rises to the occasion. The definitive "X-Files" movie may not be out there after all.
"The X-Files: I Want to Believe," a 20th Century Fox release, is rated PG-13 for violent and disturbing content and thematic material. Running time: 104 minutes. Two stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G _ General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG _ Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 _ Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R _ Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 _ No one under 17 admitted.