ET, Phone In

The X Files was the monumental success story of television in the 1990s, the seemingly endless adventures of moody crackpot Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and his reluctant medical sidekick Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), devoted to uncovering conspiracies, chasing monsters and seeking out E.T. Now, ten years on from their first big-screen adaptation and nine years after everybody stopped caring, the partners are reunited in I Want To Believe when a female FBI agent is abducted in snowy West Virginia and a psychic priest claims to know where she is.

Spooky Mulder is now a recluse, living under the radar in a remote farmhouse in self-enforced retirement, spending his days clipping strange stories from the newspapers and cultivating a rabbinical beard. His former partner has left the FBI and is now a hospital paediatrician, working on a particularly tricky case of a young boy with a brain disease. When the agency – in the form of rapper Xzibit and Amanda Peet - come and ask Scully to reconnect them with Mulder, she convinces him to take on the case, in the process rekindling their romantic relationship and convincing him to leave the house. The plot thickens when another woman is abducted from a swimming pool and Father Joe (Billy Connelly) once more leads the cops to uncover vital clues, seemingly driven by angelic visions. But the priest is a convicted paedophile, the missing women have mysterious connections and the new FBI agents don’t trust the old guard anymore.

It’s a complicated story, but not that much more so. Remove the supernatural X-Files hook and this is just another gloomy cop drama, steadily traipsing through a procession of ethereal clues and not-so cunning misdirections, feeble stand-offs set against tepid chases and choreographed procedure. As the agents race around the snow-bound landscapes searching for the missing women, Scully is drawn into a battle with the religious hospital administrators when she suggests treating her dying patient with experimental stem-cells. This she accomplishes by googling “stem-cell research”, printing off a ream of documents, scratching her head and then, in the next scene, confidently injecting the child’s brain with a syringe filled with pink goo.

Duchovny and Anderson do bring a convincing maturity, call it tiredness, to their best-known creations but their chemistry is not nearly enough to carry the lumpy story, which starts without involvement and doesn’t improve. Opposite them, Connelly is miscast as the spooky priest, unable to add any complexity or emotion to what is an underwritten, lazily sketched character, polishing his Scottish burr on the choice dialogue. In the end, all three resort to gimmicks and tics to struggle through the signposts; wearily pitting God against Science and seemingly uninterested in the outcome. Written and directed by the series originator Chris Carter, there is just enough here for hardcore fans on a nostalgia trip but almost nothing of the old mystery remains.

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