The Truth Is Kind Of A Snore!! Alexandra DuPont Calls X-FILES 2 A Dull, Low-Budget, Underwhelming Rush Job!!
Published at: July 24, 2008, 6:19 p.m. CST by hercules
The X-Files: I Want to Believe: FAQ
(by Alexandra DuPont)
shipper -- The term "ship" came from the X-Files fandom, when fanfics were written about Mulder and Scully. The fans then called themselves "shippers." It ... is now the title a person gives themself if they believe two characters should or will be together.
-- The Urban Dictionary
Q. What's the (spoiler-free) upshot?
"The X-Files: I Want to Believe" isn't horrible, exactly.
(Or at least it isn't horrible until its coffin-nail-bad final shot, which comes midway through the end credits, and which I'm totally going to spoil below.)
But right now -- while the filmmakers are asking you to pay full ticket price plus concessions for the privilege of seeing it -- the movie just feels horrible.
It feels horrible because it's a dull, low-budget, and underwhelming rush-job that comes after years of speculation and build-up.
The film is padded. It's uninspired. It's a total TV movie (only without any of the sex/comedy/horror/mystery spark that made the TV show pop for half a decade). And it discards its legacy like it's shunning a relative.
It plays like one of the show's less-interesting stand-alone episodes. I'm a casual user of the show, but I'm guessing harder-core fans would rank it somewhere in the lower 25 percent of the series' stand-alone eps.
I'm also pretty sure everyone is going to royally hate it -- especially the show's remaining fans. And I'm guessing those "shipper" LiveJournal communities will self-immolate out of sheer depression over how disappointing and un-sexy the whole thing is, but maybe that immolation needed to happen.
Writer/director Chris Carter cranked out the script just before the writer's strike (it was a condition of his getting to make the film, apparently), and it shows. He falls on episodic-TV crutches to the degree that the film seems to pause for commercial breaks -- with every dramatic beat dropping pretty much when and where you expect it to.
"I Want to Believe" also leaves me wondering if Carter truly understands the formula that made his show such a phenomenon; he seems concerned with all the wrong stuff.
Anyway. Spoilers galore from here on out.
Q. What's the story?
I'm going to get a little more into the story than usual -- just because I want to impress upon hard-core fans exactly how ripped off they'll feel if they spend $30 each on movie-theater dates to see this rather than waiting for home video.
It's six years since Fox Mulder became a fugitive, after finally learning "The Truth" that aliens will launch a large-scale invasion of Earth on Dec. 22, 2012. He's responded to this paradigm-exploding news by growing a beard and ... well, that's pretty much the only way he's changed, actually. (Earth's impending doom is not mentioned once -- though Carter has said he wants to deal with it in the next feature film if enough of you do spend that $30.)
Mulder is also living with Scully -- who works under her own name as a surgeon at a Catholic hospital and gets in long, boring arguments with a priest over the care of a little boy with a rare disorder that may or may not be fixable with painful stem-cell treatments. (The hospital subplot exists solely to pad out the narrative to feature length, and it wouldn't be any less interesting if it tried to show you its stamp collection.)
Baby William is long gone. They discuss him once, but not specifically.
Suddenly, a development! Two new FBI agents (Alvin "Xzibit" Joiner and Amanda Peet, playing roles I'll bet were originally planned for Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish) ask Mulder to come back and help with a case. Scully passes on the message that "all is forgiven" -- the phrase "all is forgiven" is literally used -- and that's all it takes for Fox to climb on a chopper and fly to Washington.
"Good Lord," you may ask, "What case could be so monumental that the FBI would choose to ignore the fact that Mulder was sentenced to death during a trumped-up military tribunal?"
Well, a single FBI agent has gone missing. And a convicted pedophile priest (Billy Connolly) is having psychic visions that lead Xzibit and Peet to various severed body parts buried in the snow. The Bureau wants Mulder to confirm the priest's psychic abilities.
It goes without saying that the case ends up being weirder that everyone expects. It's a goofy mess involving organ trafficking, terrorized women in boxes, gay Russians, the guy who plays Leoben on "Battlestar Galactica," and dogs with extremely silly modifications. It's all happening, if memory serves, in West Virginia, and when you see it, you'll find yourself mildly stunned that Carter thought this was a story worthy of a feature-length comeback attempt.
(That fake werewolf photo leaked by Carter as a joke was much more promising than what we actually got, frankly. I would have loved to see Mulder and Scully freelancing as ghost-breakers and tangling with updated versions of classic movie monsters in something with wit and atmosphere.)
Oh, and Mulder and Scully have ill-defined, breakup-level disagreements over Scully wanting to spend less time "in the darkness" while building a sunny home life with Mulder, or something. (Never mind that she's the one who brokers the meeting that gets him into the new case.)
Given everything that’s come before, this "relationship issue" feels totally manufactured -- it's as if Carter felt he needed to move a few pieces back and forth on the soap-opera chessboard to stimulate the 'shippers without giving them any actual dramatic nourishment.
Q. What's good?
1. There's one provocative idea here: Would God use a pedophile priest as an instrument of justice? It's kind of an offensive idea after we learn the priest's connection with one of his abuse victims, but at least it's an idea worthy of "The X-Files" Everything else in the movie is basically filler.
2. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson look yoga-butt-fantastic.
3. Leoben from "Battlestar Galactica" does a nice hambone Russian accent. If you squint, he kind of looks like a greasy Daniel Craig.
4. There's this one-scene character who's semi-funny: the super-literal old hick who runs a rural swimming pool.
5. The opening-credits shot features a full moon and it's nicely spooky, if clichéd.
Q. What's not-so-good?
1. Carter makes the exact same mistake here he made in the later seasons of the TV series: He introduces a couple of bland FBI agents (Peet, Xzibit) who aren't as charismatic as Mulder, Scully, or Skinner -- then gives these new agents action and conversation scenes that would have been a lot more entertaining to watch with Mulder, Scully, or Skinner.
2. Oh, and speaking of which: Walter Skinner is awkwardly dropped into the movie for about 10 minutes toward the end. What the hell, Mitch Pileggi -- is "Stargate: Atlantis" really keeping you THAT busy?
3. The relationship stuff is boring. There's probably a drinking game in counting the number of times Mulder and Scully have a discussion that seems to break up their partnership, only to have some new development or coincidence force them back together in the next five minutes.
4. Scully's hospital subplot is boring.
5. Mulder isn't half as quippy with the wisecracks as he was in the show and the first movie.
6. The series is (justly) credited with upping the cinematic standards of television programming. "I Want to Believe," on the other hand, brings television standards into the cinema. It's just this slate-grey spool of uninteresting edits and compositions, with few establishing shots and weaksauce action choreography. I know the studio only gave Carter $30 million to play with, but come on.
7. Still talking about Mulder's sister? Really?
8. The movie's final shot is just mind-bendingly, stunningly, fanbase-killingly awful. You ready? I'm spoiling this:
The end credits feature a too-bouncy remix of Mark Snow's "X-Files" theme over shots of the snowscapes we've been seeing for the entire film. Gradually, the snow melts into water. Suddenly, mid-credits, you're flying over a sunny tropical seascape. A tiny rowboat sneaks into view. It contains a shirtless Mulder and a bikini-clad Scully -- apparently on some sort of post-horrorshow, relationship-healing vacation, where I guess they'll while away the days sipping rum punch until the aliens land.
The camera pauses over them, looking down -- and they look up and wave.
I am not making this up.
Everything wrong with "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" is summed up in that final shot, which is now the final image we have of these characters.
Warmest, Alexandra DuPont
P.S. I guess I stand corrected on the pressing "Did Harvey Dent leave stains on his pillow?" issue, raised in last week's "Dark Knight" review. (I still think there should have been a little more gravy on those linens, but America has spoken.) I'd also like to know how so many e-mails containing the subject head "pillow stains" got through my spam filter.
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