San Francisco Chronicle
Out there, once again, in search of the truth
Drama. Starring David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Amanda Peet and Billy Connolly. Directed by Chris Carter. (PG-13. 103 minutes. At Bay Area theaters. For complete movie listings and show times, and to buy tickets for select theaters, go to sfgate.com/movies.)
So you're getting this from someone who doesn't know "The X-Files," never wanted to know it and didn't even see the first "X-Files" movie. As such, there will be no pronouncements here as to how fans of the old TV series will receive this screen version.
One thing can be said here with certainty: Knowing nothing, zero, nulla, nada and bubkes about "X-Files" is no impediment to enjoying "X-Files: I Want to Believe" - and appreciating it for the well-acted, adult piece of work that it is.
It's difficult to take familiar characters, who have been developed and established over countless hours of series television, and put them over within minutes for an audience who doesn't know them. But director Chris Carter and actors David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson make it look easy. Instead of being anxious to inform the audience of the characters' rich histories, they let the histories come through unburdened by needless detail. The emotional details are there. They're present in the character interaction and even in the lived-in interaction between the actors and their roles.
For example, and this may seem like a small thing, it's rare to see someone play a physician and be as thoroughly believable as Anderson's Dana Scully. It's part of the texture of the film that, no matter what Scully is doing outside the hospital, some of the physician's aura - of living on the frontlines of suffering and illness, of having an unshakeable, ever-present awareness of human frailty - is brought to bear in Anderson's performance. Anderson looks at people as if she knows more than she wants to know, as if she knows how they might end up. And that's precisely how she looks at Duchovny as Mulder, her former investigative partner. On the outs with his former employer, the FBI, he has spent the past six years ... actually, it's hard to say what he's been doing, besides throwing pencils at the ceiling and clipping articles from the newspaper.
But then an FBI agent (Amanda Peet, always nice to see her) reunites Mulder and Scully and brings Mulder in to consult on a case: An FBI agent has gone missing. The two former partners go to the old FBI building and stand outside an office looking at pictures of George W. Bush and J. Edgar Hoover in the hallway. Then they exchange blank glances as if to say, "Do we really belong here?"
In their old capacity, Mulder and Scully were part of a special unit that dealt with anything from telepathy to alien abductions. This time, the case is fairly earthbound. There's a pedophiliac former priest (Billy Connolly) who claims to have visions that might help the authorities find the missing agent. Mulder, an expert on the paranormal, is needed to help determine whether the priest is for real. It also helps that he's an eccentric, too, a particularly sensitive one, and knows how to talk to such people.
Carter and co-screenwriter Fred Spotnitz have devised a compelling suspense thriller with some tense moments, and Carter has infused the film with an atmosphere of, not gloom, but sorrowful reflection. The movie is concise, though at times too concise: In one or two scenes, the dialogue is so spare and anemic that the actors have trouble putting over what the moment demands. Still, Carter's restraint is admirable, and so is his willingness to embrace ambiguity and complexity in what could have been just another summer action movie.
Of course, in the end it's all about these very full and rewarding lead characters. Youthful but decidedly middle-aged, they've seen more than their share of darkness, and they've reacted the way men and women, respectively, tend to react. She by internalizing it, absorbing it and understanding it. He by denying it, resisting it and then plunging into contact with it. In this way, Mulder and Scully are like functioning models of the male and female principles.
The beauty of their interplay is that each recognizes the value of the other's approach and understands that, every so often, the other is going to be right.
-- Advisory: Violence, gore and frightening situations.