I wanted to believe, I really did. Though far from an obsessive, I was a fan of creator Chris Carter's inventive, quixotic and darkly sexy 1990s TV classic, and am quite familiar with the work of the FBI's top paranormal hunters Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). So while it's nice to see them together again, chasing things that bump in the night, it a shame that the film lands with a thud around them. Actually, calling this thing a film is a bigger stretch than most supernatural threats the duo has faced. Technically, it's the second X-Files movie (1998's X-Files: Fight the Future came first) but essentially it's an extended TV episode, with a marginally larger budget and a tendency to use sweeping helicopter pans of a big snowy field as a cheap substitute for actual scope. So in lieu of big-screen excitement we get a dash of character development — a very teeny dash — and a lot of hoo-hah about the power of faith and the audacity of hope, or something like it.
Since we last saw our heroes five years ago, skeptical Dr. Scully has taken a gig at a Catholic hospital of all places, where she's not battling mysterious powers, but butting heads with the administration's money crunchers. Mulder, meanwhile, is still in seclusion after being discredited and blacklisted by the FBI, but all is forgiven when an agent goes missing and the new kids at the bureau need his special investigative skills again. For a moment, it's as if there were a zombie loose in the FBI, then it becomes clear it's only Amanda Peet, sleepwalking though the part of (cough) Special Agent Dakota Whitney.
She and the other feds have already recruited a psychic defrocked priest, "Father Joe" (Billy Connolly), and need Mulder and Scully to bicker and sort out the clues. Mulder is all too ready to believe in the unusual while sensible Scully continues to have her doubts, even after a decade of being captured by aliens and monsters. She still thinks Joe's a fake, even after he leads them to a mass of severed body parts buried in ice, and some shadowy Eurotrash villains start to make their presence known. It's not hard to guess what these creeps are up to, though suspicions that something bigger is afoot never really play out.
Certainly there's nothing about the plot that screams "epic"; as aside from a vaguely sci-fi twist, it's the kind of sordid potboiler stuff that'd make for a pretty decent week on CSI. What a shame, because X-Files — with its sinister mood, its creepy music and a dash of geeky real science amid the spooky detective work — was the template for the alphabet soup of crime in primetime that we have now. Carter seems to have forgotten what made his creation a hit, there's very little of the trademark biting wit or sexual tension. Yes, Mulder and Scully do get it on, but at this point they're like an old married couple going through the motions. The whole affair has a sort of dour, clinical air, and the real mystery is why anyone but the diehards would care.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.