On the long-running TV show The X-Files, compelling arguments about the struggle between faith and science were framed around the doggedly curious Fox Mulder and his skeptical, logic-driven foil Dana Scully’s pursuit of aliens and bizarre paranormal occurrences. These likable protagonists retained a sense of humor amid all sorts of doom and gloom with their back-and-forth parlay and understated flirtation. However, the show was only as interesting as the forces of darkness they were pitted against: Their forays into the supernatural put them in situations that aroused paranoia, dread and fear, and that’s what’s missing from their latest feature-length excursion.
Because the plot of this second X-Files movie has been kept so tightly under wraps, one assumes suits have been trying to preserve a tremendous surprise. Instead, Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) are faced with a routine investigation into a missing persons case committed by a rather humble, easy-to-defeat foe (once they track the baddies to their underground lair, it’s basically a clean-up job). Any suspense at all is generated through a sequence of events that has Scully, now a fulltime medical doctor, persuading Mulder to take part in the investigation. Once he’s on board, she considers her job done and attempts to retreat back into her hospital work. Of course, Mulder needs her to stay with him, and when she resists he starts doubting himself, until they begin doing circles around each other: One character says “I want to believe” while the other responds “I don’t want to believe,” see-sawing in that way for the duration of the film.
Since the leads are broken records, the frustrated viewer may look to some of the other characters for a little variety. F.B.I. team leader Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) might seem like an intriguing romantic foil for Mulder, in counterpoint to his slow-burning affection for Scully, but Whitney has no defining traits other than that she may or may not feel a sense of professional kinship and connection to Mulder. (Rapper Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner, as Whitney’s partner, has little to do but glower and be continually wrong about what to do during the investigation.) Possibly the only lively supporting player then is lapsed priest Father Joe (Billy Connolly), a muttering, half-crazed loon who sees visions of endangered victims and weeps blood through his fluttering eyeballs; whenever he shows up, histrionics generally follow.
Audiences tuned in to the show for its elaborate mythology of space invaders and its freaky standalone episodes where a “monster of the week” wreaked havoc. We would watch Mulder and Scully weave their way through an investigation and, in the meantime, have some moral crisis and dish out a few philosophical musings. If you eliminate almost all of the sci-fi elements, you’re left with The X-Files: I Want to Believe. The film is all about Mulder and Scully considering each other’s point of view past the point common sense: Because the show has been off the air for so many years now, audiences may wonder why these characters haven’t moved on from their obsessively singular points of view. Some things never change, and even though the actors haven’t lost their charm and sparkle, it feels like they’re trapped in a rerun, minus the action. They’re older, more set in their ways, meaning their movie might as well have been titled Curmudgeon Versus Curmudgeon.