When a dubious psychic offers to help solve the disappearance of an FBI agent, the bureau reaches out to Dana Scully (Anderson), now a practicing doctor, to enlist the aid of Fox Mulder (Duchovny), still recognised as an expert in supernatural mysteries. The former agents reunite to pursue the case, which raises their long-standing argument about faith and scepticism.
The second X Files movie manages one classic exchange. Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), at once devoutly Catholic and sceptic on all things paranormal, needles self-proclaimed psychic and convicted paedophile Father Joe (Billy Connolly) about whether God hears his prayers. Joe asks, ‘What makes you think he hears yours?’ and Scully snaps, ‘I didn’t bugger thirty-seven altar boys’.
Over a ten-year TV run The X Files established four distinct types of episode – in reverse order of preference: the alien abduction-government conspiracy-family soap opera ‘mythology’ saga; the Silence Of The Lambs-influenced mixes of serial killing with psychic phenomena; monster-of-the-week stories about mutant vampire creatures; and weird satirical efforts which turned the show inside-out. So far, the big-screen X Files have covered the first two types. The original X Files movie, released while the show was still in production, had flying saucers and little green men and evil politicians plotting in dark rooms; I Want To Believe offers agents with big FBI signs on their backs padding through snow and finding severed limbs which produce vital clues (animal tranquiliser!), as the ambiguous, perhaps-sincere, definitely sinister Father Joe offers help that Mulder is inclined to accept and Scully wants to reject.
Coming along six years after the show wound up, writer-director-creator Chris Carter is stuck with all sorts of baggage that casual viewers might have forgotten, which needs to be at least touched on – though newcomers will be bewildered. Scully and Mulder had a baby once, remember? And Scully had terminal cancer but received a miracle cure. And the FBI put Mulder on trial for treason. All this is dealt with in snippets which feel like plot hiccoughs, while the first reel – in which David Duchovny sports a suspect beard and Gillian Anderson is busy with a subplot about a sick child – does all that where-are-they-now and how-to-get- back-in-harness business found in TV movie revivals like The Return Of The Man From UNCLE.
Agents Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) and Mosley Drummy (Alvin ‘Xzibit’ Joiner) – who prove Carter hasn’t lost his knack for ‘come again’ character names – are set up as the new generation of X Files sleuths, but get even less to do than the Robert Patrick/Annabeth Gish team who wound down the show. Once M&S are plodding around after a creepy Russian, two-headed dogs and Father Joe’s squirmy backstory, we’re in a more-or-less normal X-File, though the fact that neither are official agents means more suspense since they are free to wander off into trouble without a badge or a gun for protection. Carter does a better job as director than writer – he rehashes at wearisome length arguments about scepticism and belief, which now has more to do with religion than arcana like UFOs, bigfoot or vampires. The lead actors relish the occasional sparks more than the fudge of a relationship which now runs to cuddles and sniffles (remember when sexual tension simmered on the show?) but it’s nice to have them back. Likewise, there’s a familiar, pleasurable chill to be had from icy settings, stalkings, ambiguous supernatural glimpses and the sick, sick answer to the mystery.
An okay paranormal mystery, with solid work from the regulars but please Mr Carter, next time, could we have liver-eating mutants or post-modern comedy like the really good episodes of The X Files?