I was never a fan of David Lynch's offbeat 1990 television series Twin Peaks. I didn't watch it, I didn't know who killed Laura Palmer and, quite frankly, I didn't care.
When they made a theatrical film based on the complicated television show, 1992's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, I was intrigued enough to see it. But without the background of the TV series, I had no idea what the hell was going on and quickly grew lost, bored and suicidal.
Therefore, while walking into The X Files: I Want to Believe, I harbored some trepidation: I was never a fan of the television series, and although I liked the first big-screen adaptation, 1998's The X-Files, that film was full of pre-existing histories and storylines. Here, though, my fears were misplaced: The beauty of I Want to Believe is its ability to stand alone as an intelligent, interesting and engaging thriller, enjoyable for the most casual of fans.
Its pedigree is still solid and familiar: The film was directed and co-written by series creator Chris Carter and stars the two actors -- David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson -- who elevated the roles of the paranormal researchers Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, respectively, to cult status.
A good thriller comes out of the gate fast and keeps going full speed ahead, and this is how Carter plays it. In two smartly interwoven early scenes, an FBI agent is abducted from her West Virginia home, while elsewhere a team of FBI agents and search dogs follow a mysterious figure across the snow-covered countryside.
We learn that the mysterious figure is Father Joe Crissman (played by Scottish comedian Billy Connolly), a defrocked priest who claims to have psychic knowledge of the kidnapping. It's that possible psychic link that causes Crissman's FBI trackers -- Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) and Mosley Drummy (rapper/actor Xzibit) -- to search out Mulder. (One agent is a potential believer, the other a skeptic -- sound familiar?)
That leads to Scully, who is working again as a doctor at a rural Catholic hospital run by a creepy priest more concerned with keeping down the cost of health-care than with saving human lives.
To say much more about the plot would give away too many secrets and twists. But suffice it to say, Scully gets Mulder to help the FBI; she also tries to help both him and a dying patient whom the hospital would rather see pass on than go through expensive, experimental treatment.
Duchovny and Anderson are both great: They have made careers playing these characters perfectly. The most surprising thing to me was how good Anderson was in this outing. The television show, while theoretically about Scully and Mulder, always seemed favor the believer Mulder over his more skeptical partner.
While that's sort of the case here -- Mulder definitely drives the action and the search for the missing agent -- Scully is given a pivotal role that helps the movie stay on course. She's at her brooding, questioning best when she doubts Father Joe's psychic powers and bemoans Mulder's ability to break away from the X-Files cases that have dominated so much of his life.
Her best scene, though, is a one-on-one with Connolly in his dark, depressing apartment. Here, Connolly, a fantastic comedian, shows he's got dramatic chops as well. He helps make Father Joe likable (despite the fact that he, as Scully says, "has buggered 37 altar boys") while conveying enough untrustworthiness to make you question the former priest's motives.
Still, while the narrative is good -- a little weird, but that's the X-Files twist everyone wants -- this movie isn't perfect. Its pace, while enjoyably brisk, doesn't allow for much character and plot development. We're already familiar with Mulder and Scully, but Carter skimps on the other characters, especially the two new FBI agents and, most importantly, the kidnappers. Also, it's not exactly PC to call more screen time for a pedophile priest, but a little more of Father Joe would have been a good thing. All told, though, these stumbles don't detract much from the thriller's overall pleasures.
It would have been easy for Carter and the X-Files gang to have created an insiders' film, designed to flatter the superiority complexes of the series' fanboys. Instead, Carter delivers a film with enough pertinent details and storylines to reward longtime fans, while still leaving those of us who just showed up for an enjoyable popcorn movie satisfied -- and not mystified.