Contrary to the prevailing opinion of the hundreds of fan letters Ireceive each and every day, I don't know everything.
For instance, I don't know much about The X-Files. I caught afew episodes during its two-century run, enough to know it's aboutaliens and mind powers and foxy, no-nonsense redheads, but it wasn'tsomething I scheduled my week around. I mean, in those days theInternet had just been invented. I didn't have time for TV when therewere Web sites with pictures of polar bears over flashing backgroundsand tinny sound clips from Full Metal Jacket.
Little did I know that, 10 years later, it would be my solemn duty tohold a light up to The X-Files: I Want to Believe, and here Iam 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 samepale life as its blessed screen. You only have one life to live, and10 years from now, your encyclopedic knowledge of American popculture could make you fractionally better at your job.
Fortunately, the movie is a stand-alone. An FBI agent has gone missingand the agency's only lead is priest Billy Connolly, whose psychic"visions" lead them to evidence of the crime. The FBI is naturallysuspicious of Connolly's abilities, but lacking anything else to goon, they look to paranormal expert David Duchovny, who's been inhiding 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 aconvicted pedophile and may be pulling a con to earn forgiveness forhis crimes--but with time ticking and another woman abducted, heremains their only hope to solve the case.
All of which sounds like pretty standard "catch the serial killerbefore he kills again" stuff. For the most part, it is. It isn't untildeep into I Want to Believe that the territory gets weirdenough to justify that ever-mysterious "X" in its title.
Instead, X-Files vets Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz' scripttreats us to repeated discussions of whether Connolly's psychicability is legit and if it's possible to forgive him for his crimes ofabuse, to Anderson's attachment to a kid with an incurable disease, torepeated arguments of faith vs. reason, and to some new developmentsin the Mulder-Scully relationship.
Unusual material for a thriller?
Well yeah, but so are 13 hours of debate from the House ofCommons, and the only time I want to watch that is when I desperatelyneed to forget how awful my own life is. (Daily, as it turns out. Badexample.)
It's not so much the many side subjects that are the problem. I'm allfor movies taking chances and shooting for depth. It's that all thesethreads don't yield anything more than a big frizzy mess, one thatpays off minor dividends while frequently forgetting the concept ofsuspense.
Nor am I expecting I Want to Believe to actually hash out thegreat debate of faith and reason. Faith won that contest in lastyear's Armageddon. Not like that was any big surprise — reason can onlywin when it's fighting reason. Don't believe me? With no factualevidence whatsoever, accuse your wife of cheating some time and see ifher precious "logic" can stand up to your all-out emotional attack ofjealousy and paranoia. It might cost you your marriage, but yourexperiment will earn you the respect of your scientific peers.
For the most part, even the Mulder and Scully developments — whatshould be the movie's secret weapon — don't break enough new ground tobuild a bug's hot tub. They're just there, moments that might havefelt good as ideas, but were never quite made compelling in thewriting.
A few funny moments and some stabs at insight are outweighed by adawdling plot and a bunch of half-sketched new characters. Things doget interesting once we finally learn what's going on. By the time itsputters out in an underexplored anticlimax, it's clear I Want toBelieve doesn't have much for anyone who isn't already a fan.