An X-Files sequel you can believe in |

An X-Files sequel you can believe in

Roger EbertUniversal Press SyndicateAspen, CO Colorado
In this image released by 20th Century Fox, David Duchovny, left, and Gillian Anderson are shown in a scene from, "The X-Files: I Want to Believe." (AP Photo/20th Century Fox, Diyah Pera) ** NO SALES **
ASSOCIATED PRESS | 20th Century Fox

The X-Files: I Want to Believe arrives billed as a stand-alone film that requires no familiarity with the famous television series. So it is, leaving us to piece together the plot on our own. And when I say piece together, trust me, thats exactly what I mean. In an early scene, a human arm turns up, missing its body, and other spare parts are later discovered. The arm is found in a virtuoso scene showing dozens of FBI agents lined up and marching across a field of frozen snow. They are led by a white-haired, entranced old man who suddenly drops to his knees and cries out that this is the place! And it is.Now allow me to jump ahead and drag in the former agents Mulder and Scully. Mulder (David Duchovny) has left the FBI under a cloud because of his belief in the paranormal. Scully (Gillian Anderson) is a top-level surgeon, recruited to bring Mulder in from the cold, all his sins forgiven, to help on an urgent case. An agent is missing, and the white-haired man, we learn, is Father Joe (Billy Connolly), a convicted pedophile who is said to be a psychic.Scully brings in Mulder, but detests the old priests crimes and thinks he is a fraud. Mulder, of course, wants to believe Father Joe could help on the case. But hold on one second. Even assuming that Father Joe planted the severed arm himself, youll have to admit its astonishing that he can lead agents to its exact resting place in a snow-covered terrain the size of several football fields with no landmarks. Even before he started weeping blood instead of tears, I believed him. Scully keeps right on insulting him right to his face. She wants not to believe.Scully is emotionally involved in the case of a young boy who will certainly die if he doesnt have a risky experimental bone marrow treatment. This case, interesting in itself, is irrelevant to the rest of the plot except that it inspires a Google search that offers a fateful clue. Apart from that, what were faced with is a series of victims, including Agent Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) and eventually Mulder himself, who are run off the road by a weirdo with a snowplow.Who is doing this? And why does Father Joe keep getting psychic signals of barking dogs? And is the missing agent still alive, as he thinks she is? And wont anyone listen to Mulder, who eventually finds himself all alone in the middle of a blizzard, being run off the road, and then approaching a suspicious building complex after losing his cell phone? And how does he deal with a barking dog?I make it sound a little silly. Well, it is a little silly, but its also a skillful thriller, giving us just enough cutaways to a sinister laboratory to keep us fascinated. What happens in this laboratory you will have to find out for yourself, but the solution may be more complex than you think if you watch only casually. Hint: Pay close attention to the hands.What I appreciated about The X-Files: I Want to Believe was that it involved actual questions of morality, just as The Dark Knight does. Its not simply about good and evil, but about choices. Come to think of it, Scullys dying child may be connected to the plot in another way, since it poses the question: Are any means justified to keep a dying person alive?The movie lacks a single explosion. It has firearms, but nobody is shot. The special effects would have been possible in the era of Frankenstein. Lots of stunt people were used. I had the sensation of looking at real people in real spaces, not motion-capture in CGI spaces. There was a tangible quality to the film that made the suspense more effective because it involved the physical world.Of course it involves a psychic world, too. And the veteran Scottish actor Billy Connolly creates a quiet, understated performance as a man who hates himself for his sins, makes no great claims, does not understand his psychic powers, is only trying to help. He wants to believe he can be forgiven. As for Duchovny and Anderson, these roles are their own. Its like theyre in repertory. They still love each other, and still believe they would never work as a couple. Or should I say they want to believe?The movie is insidious. It involves evil on not one level but two. The evildoers, it must be said, are singularly inept; they receive bills for medical supplies under their own names, and surely there must be more efficient ways to abduct victims and purchase animal tranquilizers. But what theyre up to is so creepy, and the snow-covered Virginia landscapes so haunting, and the wrongheadedness of Scully so frustrating, and the FBI bureaucracy so stupid, and Mulder so brave, that the movie works like thrillers used to work, before they were required to contain villains the size of buildings.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe 20th Century-Fox presents a film directed by Chris Carter. Produced and written by Frank Spotnitz and Chris Carter. Photographed by Bill Roe. Edited by Richard A. Harris. Music by Mark Snow. Running time: 104 minutes. Classified: PG-13 (for violent and disturbing content and thematic material). Rated: Three and a half stars.

Hank StueverThe Washington PostThe X-Files: I Want to Believe is a taut, well-acted, not very scary, not very hard to figure out serial-killer mystery revolving around two adults with trust issues, still driving around in a Taurus along the back roads of Northern Virginia and West Virginia over a couple of gray, snowy days. Sounds like a flop, correct?Even in my sincere belief that I enjoyed returning to the dark, dysfunctional world of former FBI agents Mulder and Scully (David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson), I have this eerie sixth sense that most everyone who ever dwelt in an Internet chat forum devoted to the show in its heyday will walk away disappointed in one way or another because of what this X-Files doesnt have:It doesnt have the original shows elaborately embroidered conspiracy theories (you really can watch it cold, with zero X-filler required). Other than a few old-fashioned camera moves, it has no special effects (to my eye, theres not a single trick of CGI, which I propose as a plus). It doesnt have ghosts, chupacabras, alien honeybees or mysterious helicopters, even though creator-director Chris Carter and co-conspirator Frank Spotnitz do alight upon a new, au courant kind of creepazoid: priests.Even the shows shippers (those fans who hung on every spoken and unspoken flicker of a Mulder-Scully relationship, hence the nickname) might be surprised by how grown-up our sleuths became when we werent looking. The paranormal gives way to normal. With simple sanity and a refreshing lack of flash, Mulder and Scully capably lay out the dull evidence: Our big summer movies are part of a plot to trash our minds. I want to believe Mulder and Scully are correct.

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