Young women are disappearing in rural West Virginia. Something shocking is buried in the snow. A man is bleeding from the eyes and suffering horrible visions.

Who ya gonna call?

Mulder and Scully, of course! It's a dirty job, but the truth is still "out there." It's time for The X-Files' dynamic duo to come out of hiding and pursue it.

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson reprise their roles as Mulder and Scully

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson reprise their roles as Mulder and Scully

In The X-Files: I Want to Believe, a big-screen sequel of sorts to the television series that ran from 1993-2002, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) still follows his hunches about paranormal activity, and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) wields her scientific skepticism, proving to audiences that they still have the chemistry that made the franchise so popular. And yes, they still refer to each other by their last names.

But a few things have changed: Mulder and Scully don't go around whipping out their FBI badges anymore. Mulder keeps a low profile, as all of his meddling with mysteries has made him unpopular with the government. Scully's become a medical doctor, putting her scientific brain to good use and leaving her ordeals with extra-terrestrials behind. And their relationship? Well, no spoilers here!

But when FBI agent Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) summons Mulder to help her track the bad guys through the West Virginia snow, tantalizing clues quickly break down his resistance.

Alvin 'Xzibit' Joiner as FBI Agent Mosley Drummy

Alvin 'Xzibit' Joiner as FBI Agent Mosley Drummy

Why Mulder? Because he's an expert in the paranormal, and Whitney's strongest clues come from the psychic visions of Father Joseph Crissman (the marvelously grizzled Billy Connolly), visions that cause blood to run from his eyes. Joe's revelations may lead detectives to the bad guys, but then again they may be part of a sick and twisted game. He is, of course, a convicted pedophile. (Do American filmmakers really believe that all priests are sexual deviants? Is Hollywood so infected with prejudice that they've come to believe the rare exceptions are the rule? It's getting old. Seriously.)

As they try to decide whether to believe, doubt, or detest Father Joe, Mulder and Scully are right back in their element. Mulder chases mysteries, and Scully, the skeptical yin to her partner's speculative yang, casts doubt on every theory he poses. They're a match made in a heaven—at least, that's what we want to believe. And the paranormal muddle that almost destroys them is just as creepy (and ludicrous) as so many of the half-baked horrors they uncovered on TV.

Psychics, zombies, ghosts, little green men—they were the stuff that made the show's nine seasons so much fun. We entertained those B-movie plot twists because mastermind Chris Carter served them up with such enthusiasm, like a kid building his own haunted house in the Twilight Zone and populating it with the stuff of science-fiction nightmares. Along the way, Mulder and Scully's dialogue grew from a clash of faith and science into an endearing romance. It was fun, so long as we could tolerate the increasingly labyrinthine mythos and the convoluted conspiracy theories.

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Billy Connolly as Father Joseph Crissman, a convicted pedophile

Billy Connolly as Father Joseph Crissman, a convicted pedophile

Eventually, viewers became impatient with the proliferation of government cover-ups, alien invaders, chain-smoking mystery men, and deadly viruses. As the elaborate web of conspiracy theories started spoiling the fun, Carter delivered a feature film, 1998's The X-Files, that tried to offer some answers. It was an entertaining attempt, but the film's lengthy scenes of exposition left even the show's die-hard fans arguing about what it all meant. Most newcomers walked away bewildered. Not even Martin Landau, who played the hunted whistleblower on the government's alien-invasion conspiracy, could make the film as compelling as the famous flicks it plundered and pillaged (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien, The Thing).

Thank goodness this new film doesn't bother with extra-terrestrials at all. Instead, it follows the formula of those standalone episodes about psychopaths and sickos. As Mulder and Scully join forces with Agent Whitney and her partner (played by rapper Alvin "Xzibit" Joiner), they're confronted with new questions: Is Father Joe leading them into a trap? Or can he lead them to the killer? That bloody clue they uncover in the snow—where did it come from? Why do they find traces of animal tranquilizer at every turn? What does any of this have to do with Scully's attempt to save the life of a brain-diseased boy with the use of an experimental stem-cell treatment?

All of these questions are answered by the time the credits roll. Carter and longtime collaborator Frank Spotnitz should be applauded for designing a simpler, more accessible movie. It's the most conservative summer action movie in decades—lacking explosions and digital effects, it looks like a film that could have been made twenty years ago.

He wants to believe. Really, he does.

He wants to believe. Really, he does.

But the filmmakers' admirable restraint is not enough to recommend it. There's just not much to enjoy here. Sure, it's a pleasure to see Mulder and Scully together again and to hear Mark Snow's spooky theme music. But the film's occasional sweetness is soured by the mystery's ugliness and the movie's grotesque (and anticlimactic) finale. Since The X-Files began, moviegoers have seen countless serial-killer thrillers, psychotic killers of every size and shape, and more grisly crime scenes than any homicide detective sees in a lifetime. I Want to Believe wants to sit on the shelf alongside thoughtful thrillers like The Silence of the Lambs, Se7en, and even Dirty Pretty Things. But where it should be scary, it's only shocking; where it should be inventive, it's all too familiar. When we finally see the truth of these horrific crimes, well—keep Kleenex handy, because your eyes might start bleeding too.

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If anything, this production should have been televised. There's nothing here that deserves the big screen. Wait, I take that back. The radiant Gillian Anderson brings such subtlety, nuance, and intelligence to the material that it's like she's in a different movie altogether. She's the beating heart of the film, full of warmth and emotion and compelling conflict. But Scully is surrounded by flat, undeveloped characters who never really earn our affection or respect.

To their credit, Carter and Spotnitz take Father Joe seriously enough to consider the possibility of God's forgiveness for his heinous crimes. And as Scully's spiritual journey progresses through questions about forgiveness, faith, and reason, only this repentant priest offers meaningful counsel: "Don't give up."

But Joe's character deserved more detail and attention. We don't learn much about him. And as both he and the other religious figure in the film, the unpleasant Father Ybarra (Adam Godley) who works with Scully at the hospital, are both suspicious characters, moviegoers are likely to walk away with the impression that Catholics are creepy. The film's general disapproval of faithful Christians becomes even more obvious during the film's closing moments. As Scully tries to decide between active hope and a fearful surrender, Father Ybarra and other Christians stand by scowling, making it clear they'd rather she gave up.

Nevertheless, X-Files fans should leave the theater with Father Joe's counsel in mind—"Don't give up." Mulder and Scully are alive to continue exploring that mysterious territory between truths we can prove, and spiritual Truth that's still "out there." Perhaps they needn't "fight the future" after all. They look ready to take on grand new adventures, and if Carter and Co. can cook up some good stories, the franchise might be worth revisiting. Is it possible?

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You knew I was going to say this: I want to believe!

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. Compare and contrast Mulder and Scully's views of the world. Who has a greater grasp of "the truth"? What do they both need to learn?
  2. What did you think of Father Joe? Do you think he can be forgiven for his crimes? Does he seem genuinely repentant?
  3. Do you believe in psychic phenomena like Father Joe's visions? Has God ever used visions and dreams to communicate with people?
  4. What do you think of the closing scene in the hospital. Is the scientist being brave and noble? Do the protestors have valid concerns?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

The X-Files: I Want to Believe is rated PG-13 for violent and disturbing content and thematic material. The film portrays some Christians as narrow-minded and villainous. While the movie is surprisingly restrained when it comes to gore, the implication of evil deeds is truly disturbing. Psychopathic killers engage in grisly surgical procedures. An unmarried man and woman sleep together, and there are casual jokes about sex and deviant sexual practices. There are frequent abuses of God's name, and some crass language. The violent scenes are typical for thrillers, but consider this a PG-13 movie on the borderline of an R-rating.

What other Christian critics are saying:
  1. Plugged In
  2. Crosswalk
  3. Catholic News Service
  4. Past the Popcorn

The X-Files: I Want to Believe
Our Rating
2½ Stars - Fair
Average Rating
(not rated yet)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG-13 (for violent and disturbing content and thematic material)
Directed By
Chris Carter
Run Time
1 hour 44 minutes
David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Billy Connolly
Theatre Release
July 25, 2008 by 20th Century Fox
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