Contrary to the prevailing opinion of the hundreds of fan letters I receive each and every day, I don't know everything.
For instance, I don't know much about The X-Files. I caught a few episodes during its two-century run, enough to know it's about aliens and mind powers and foxy, no-nonsense redheads, but it wasn't something I scheduled my week around. I mean, in those days the Internet had just been invented. I didn't have time for TV when there were Web sites with pictures of polar bears over flashing backgrounds and tinny sound clips from Full Metal Jacket.
Little did I know that, 10 years later, it would be my solemn duty to hold a light up to The X-Files: I Want to Believe, and here I am with only a passing knowledge of the show.
Let that be a lesson to you, kids: start watching TV now. Watch all the TV you can handle. Watch TV until its sweet radiation makes your skin glow with the same pale life as its blessed screen. You only have one life to live, and 10 years from now, your encyclopedic knowledge of American pop culture could make you fractionally better at your job.
Fortunately, the movie is a stand-alone. An FBI agent has gone missing and the agency's only lead is priest Billy Connolly, whose psychic "visions" lead them to evidence of the crime. The FBI is naturally suspicious of Connolly's abilities, but lacking anything else to go on, they look to paranormal expert David Duchovny, who's been in hiding since the agency ran him out on trumped-up charges years ago.
With minimal effort, ex-partner Gillian Anderson (now a doctor) convinces Duchovny back into the field. They soon learn Connolly is a convicted pedophile and may be pulling a con to earn forgiveness for his crimes--but with time ticking and another woman abducted, he remains their only hope to solve the case.
All of which sounds like pretty standard "catch the serial killer before he kills again" stuff. For the most part, it is. It isn't until deep into I Want to Believe that the territory gets weird enough to justify that ever-mysterious "X" in its title.
Instead, X-Files vets Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz' script treats us to repeated discussions of whether Connolly's psychic ability is legit and if it's possible to forgive him for his crimes of abuse, to Anderson's attachment to a kid with an incurable disease, to repeated arguments of faith vs. reason, and to some new developments in the Mulder-Scully relationship.
Unusual material for a thriller?
Well yeah, but so are 13 hours of debate from the House of Commons, and the only time I want to watch that is when I desperately need to forget how awful my own life is. (Daily, as it turns out. Bad example.)
It's not so much the many side subjects that are the problem. I'm all for movies taking chances and shooting for depth. It's that all these threads don't yield anything more than a big frizzy mess, one that pays off minor dividends while frequently forgetting the concept of suspense.
Nor am I expecting I Want to Believe to actually hash out the great debate of faith and reason. Faith won that contest in last year's Armageddon. Not like that was any big surprise — reason can only win when it's fighting reason. Don't believe me? With no factual evidence whatsoever, accuse your wife of cheating some time and see if her precious "logic" can stand up to your all-out emotional attack of jealousy and paranoia. It might cost you your marriage, but your experiment will earn you the respect of your scientific peers.
For the most part, even the Mulder and Scully developments — what should be the movie's secret weapon — don't break enough new ground to build a bug's hot tub. They're just there, moments that might have felt good as ideas, but were never quite made compelling in the writing.
A few funny moments and some stabs at insight are outweighed by a dawdling plot and a bunch of half-sketched new characters. Things do get interesting once we finally learn what's going on. By the time it sputters out in an underexplored anticlimax, it's clear I Want to Believe doesn't have much for anyone who isn't already a fan.