The Sacramento Bee
June 19, 1998

Trust no one

'The X-Files' movie is well-made, but falls short of its hype

By Joe Baltake
Bee Movie Critic

So this is what all the fuss is about.

"The X-Files: Fight the Future" takes the phenomenally popular TV series of the same name - which reportedly has about 20 million loyal weekly viewers, better known as X-philes - and extends it for the big screen with a confident professionalism and quiet intelligence. The movie is smooth and rich, and looks strikingly handsome in wide-screen dimensions.

But - yes, there's a "but" in here, folks - despite the ostentation braininess of it all, the film is not too exciting as it seductively tries to spook us with th idea of an untrustworthy government that's more than willing to sell us all down the river for the sake of some creepy extraterrestrial conspiracy. Surprisingly, once you buy into the material's unrelenting paranoia, you begin to notice first a certain repetitiveness - ideas, ambience, acting tricks and certainly the deadpan way the dialogue is delivered - and then, a certain, well, emptiness.

It's like watching the same scene well-written, well-directed and well-acted - over and over and over again.

Now, this comes from a person whose only exposure to "The X-Files" has been via the relentless hype and adulation that has surrounded it during its five seasons on television. Having never seen a single episode, I come to this new movie version somewhat a virgin. I modify this confession with the word "somewhat" because these days, thanks to pervasive media coverage, it is possible to have not seen stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in action on TV and still feel you know them.

To the filmmakers' credit, it appears as if they've been faithful to the spirit of the material - and, therefore, loyal to their fans, while making it possible for the uninitiated to come into this film without an iota of confusion. "The X-Files: Fight the Future" is remarkably accessible and easy to understand, thanks largely to Duchovny and Anderson, who provide us with a quick, immediate glimpse of the respective psychoses and concerns of the characters they're playing, FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully.

The movie - apparently like the weekly show - is about Mulder's dedication to his obsession with th idea of alien abductions and about Scully's dedication to Mulder. He's the wild card of the bureau, and Scully, originally brought in to debunk his crackpot theories and reign him in, ends up buying into them instead, generously offering hr own expertise.

"I am the central figure in a government conspiracy," Mulder tells someone matter-of-factly, "part of a cover-up to conceal an extraterrestrial invasion."

Their quest for information about the aliens, their doings and the government involvement, of course, is really a quest for the truth. The two have spent five years on TV investigating strange mysteries - the paranormal - and getting few answers. They've learned only that they can trust on one.

In what is a clever marketing ploy, the new movie picks up where the TV show's May 17 finale left off, promising a resolution of not only that episode but also the show in general. It confirms the suspicions of its two protagonists.

As the film opens, Mulder and Scully are in Dallas, apparently having been reassigned from their old division to a new one that specializes in anti-terrorism. But nothing can distract them from their usual X-files duties, not even the terrorist bombing of a large office building.

All roads lead to an alien encounter, something that the film makes quite literal in its attempt to answer those nagging questions. But I have a hunch that the fans of the show really don't want those questions answered. Part of the enigmatic appeal of the movie's first half is the rampant uncertainty of it all, the gnawing vagueness. The bits and pieces that are provided - and that don't quite make a whole - are what's so tempting and enticing. There's something to be said for not having too much information, just so much.

When it does all settle into place, the movie turns into yet another variation on the "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" theme, a plot line that's already been done with undiluted pleasure three times - by Don Siegel in 1956, Philip Kaufman in 1978 and Abel Ferrara in 1994. Of course, "The X-Files" brings its own spooky nuances to the idea. It's a nifty idea that Mulder and Scully, who track down a ploy to turn us all into pod people, are podlike themselves, working for a huge government agency that specializes in the training of pods.

Rob Bowman, who has directed a lot of the TV episodes, handles this big-screen edition in a craftsmanlike, but dull, way. It would have been terrific if the producers brought in a big gun from out of town to handle the directing chores - say, America's supreme conspiracy theorist, Oliver Stone. Maybe the, "The X-Files" would have heated up on screen.

It's tough to go into this movie uninitiated and not ask, "Is that all there is?"

The X-Files: Fight the Future

* * *

Cast: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Martin Landau, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Blythe Danner, William B. Davis, John Neville, Terry O'Quinn, Jeffrey DeMunn, Glenne Headly and Lucas Black. Director: Rob Bowman. Writer: Chris Carter. Cinematographer: Ward Russell. Composer: Mark Snow. Distributor: 20th Century Fox. Running time: 121 minutes.
UA Downtown Plaza, UA Greenback, UA Market Square, Family Savings Cinema, Century (Folsom), Century (Laguna), Sacramento and 49er drive-ins, Century (Roseville), Holiday (Davis), State (Woodland), Signature (Placerville).
Rated PG-13