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'X-Files: I Want to Believe' --2 stars
Movie stardom isn't in the eye of the beholder, it's in the percentages demanded and received by the movie star. We're talking about a state of fiscal grace, not a state of glamor or mystique. By that measure Gillian Anderson is not a movie star. Yet she's world-famous as FBI agent Dana Scully. She's also a marvelous, coolly soulful actress (choice, for example, in a too-small role in "The Last King of Scotland"). Her range may not be limitless--she's best murmuring in close-up, whether dealing with medical issues or spiritual ones--but her dramatic instincts are very stealthy indeed.
Anderson almost makes the new "X-Files" film, subtitled "I Want to Believe," something to believe in. The new feature is like a protracted, passably engaging episode of the deliciously paranoiac series that began in 1993 and wrapped in 2002. A decade ago series creator Chris Carter and his stars, Anderson and top-billed David Duchovny, got together for their first spinoff feature ("The X-Files: Fight the Future"), which elaborated on the show's UFO abduction mythology. "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" has no UFOs in it, and it relies less on the audience's collective knowledge of the series and more on its own stand-alone storytelling skills.
Yet the story is both a muddle and a drag, having to do with stem cell research and regeneration and missing limbs and a fraught psychic, and that's enough detail for the purposes of this review. The film will work, I suspect, about the same with die-hard series fans as it does with newbies. Which is to say: Fans and newcomers alike will find it just OK. There are some comforts amid the disappointment. The second we see that first locator in the lower left-hand corner of the screen reading "Somerset, West Virginia," "X-Files" geeks know that we're looking at British Columbia, where the first five years of the series was shot. The second Scully, now a doctor working with children, shows up at Mulder's crazy-loner hide-out, where he spends his days clipping newspaper accounts of paranormal activity and watching his Grizzly Adams beard grow, you know they're about to dive back into the Truth, and the paranoia, and the things they cannot rationally explain.
Billy Connolly plays the psychic, a pedophile priest leading the feds to the solution of the case of a missing FBI agent. Amanda Peet talks tough as the agent spearheading the hunt, though the way she reads the line, "Fox Mulder, I believe?"--who has ever introduced herself to anyone that way?--you sense she's going to be straining in every scene for that deadpan minimalist cool that comes so naturally to Duchovny and Anderson.
The surprise is the film's lack of visual distinction. The best of the series' episodes looked sleek and imposingly atmospheric. By design, director Carter and cinematographer Bill Roe favor a rougher, less shiny approach, but Carter's handling of the action sequences is oddly lackluster. There's a moment when Duchovny interrupts some evil lab work being conducted by a bunch of Russians, and it's a blown opportunity for suspense in every respect.
On some level, too, I suppose I miss the UFO business. Plenty of terrific episodes of the "X-Files" series had nothing to do with aliens, but tell me this: How did " Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" end up with all the UFO fodder while "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" went in a comparatively mundane direction?
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for violent and disturbing content and thematic material)
Running time: 1:44
Opening: 12:01 a.m. Friday
Starring: David Duchovny (Fox Mulder); Gillian Anderson (Dana Scully); Amanda Peet (Dakota Whitney); Billy Connolly (Father Joseph Crissman); Alvin "XZIBIT" Joiner (Agent Mosley Drummy); Callum Keith Rennie (Janke Dacyshyn); Adam Godley (Father Ybarra); Fagin Woodcock (Franz Tomczeszyn)
Directed by: Chris Carter; written and produced by Frank Spotnitz and Carter; photographed by Bill Roe; edited by Richard A. Harris; music by Mark Snow; production designed by Mark Freeborn. A Twentieth Century Fox release.