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July 25, 2008 |

By John Williams | Film | July 25, 2008 |

“The X-Files” ended its beloved run on TV more than six years ago, and the first (very good) movie based on the show is now a full decade old. So The X-Files: I Want to Believe faces a couple of very fundamental questions — why again? why now? — and never comes up with sufficient answers. In fact, it never appears to be remotely concerned with such questions, never strains to justify itself. It focuses on an individual case rather than the show’s overarching mythology, making it seem more like a long-lost, 100-minute TV episode than a bold feature film. To some of the series’ legion of fans, of course, any new footage will be good news, no matter how mixed the final result.

After alternating between two dramatic set pieces to kick things off, the movie is slow to establish any kind of pace. Despite the rabid nature of the show’s followers, we’re taken through obligatory establishing scenes that last too long. Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) is now living in isolation, hiding from an angry FBI, taping newspaper clippings to the wall, and growing the kind of beard that’s shorthand for “disgruntled nut job.” Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) is working at a Catholic hospital, fighting to save the life of a young boy with a rare disorder against the wishes of a priest who believes the child should be left to die in peace.

The mystery that throws the Ross and Rachel of the paranormal back together resists summary, but it includes shopworn elements — most notably, a pedophiliac priest named Father Joe (Billy Connolly) — that do little to quell the suspicion that these proceedings might be stale. There’s enough sustained creepiness — always a strong suit of the franchise — to maintain interest, but the mood is better than the details, which seem familiar from movies like The Silence of the Lambs and The Island of Dr. Moreau, to name two.

Throughout its history, “The X-Files” earned points for investigating the boundary between skepticism and belief in a way that, in stronger moments, would please William James. But in nine seasons and the previous movie, even the most compelling ground of this universe has been plowed several times over, leaving little here but recycled versions of the same basic argument between Believing Mulder and Doubting Scully. The effect of these different world views on their ability to love one another is expected to carry too much weight.

Even die-hard fans might wonder, as the credits roll, if at this point the brilliantly imagined world of “The X-Files” would be better left alone. There’s nothing embarrassing about this latest project, but the movie released 10 years ago was a much more ambitious, dazzling affair, meaning that the question of why will linger much longer than the effect of I Want to Believe.

John Williams lives in Brooklyn. He’s a freelance writer. He blogs at A Special Way of Being Afraid.

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The X-Files: I Want to Believe / John Williams

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