X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE, directed by Chris Carter, written by Frank Spotnitz and Carter, 104 minutes, rated PG-13.
Key characters in the new Chris Carter movie, “X-Files: I Want to Believe,” are still struggling with whether to believe in the paranormal, but the real question at hand is more down to Earth. Do fans still believe in the franchise itself?
At a recent screening, it was obvious that a few wanted to - some did, after all, buy their tickets and file in with their pails of Pepsi. But unlike the audience at 1998’s “X-Files: Fight the Future,” a film that arrived onscreen while the television show still was on air, there wasn’t the same heightened sense of anticipation at this showing.
Given the series’ former popularity, which was huge, and its considerable distance from the mainstream (the show ended its run in 2002), you’d at least expect a buzz on par with “The Dark Knight” or “Sex and the City,” but good luck finding it. The movie tanked at the weekend box office.
A glance around the theater revealed why.
Unlike the last film, in which there was the sense that some had chosen to sit under dim spotlights so they could look suspiciously at their box of popcorn, perhaps to question whether a kernel had been fitted with a microchip or whether the butter topping was tainted with an alien pathogen, this was a different kind of audience. It was more mainstream spectators than hardcore fans, the latter of whom you always can seek out.
If the film’s demographic somehow has changed to the casually interested, that will be just fine in this film’s case since the movie is targeted more toward them, anyway. Die-hard fans, on the other hand, might be left wanting.
While there’s no question that it’s swell to see now-former FBI agents Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Mulder (David Duchovny) back onscreen again to deliver their easy brand of chemistry, disappointment might come from the fact that the paranoia and the weird factor has been taken down a notch.
From Carter and Frank Spotnitz’s script, “I Want to Believe” leaves behind Carter’s fascination with UFOs and aliens to plunge into another world, which can’t be revealed here because it would ruin the experience of seeing the film. Safe to say that it’s a nicely grotesque borrowing of one famous novel and its string of movie siblings with Scully and Mulder being pulled out of their private lives to help the FBI in its investigation of a missing field agent.
To do so, Mulder relies on the psychic Catholic priest, Father Joe (Billy Connolly), to offer clues on what happened to the agent and others who have disappeared since. Though the agents working the case (including Amanda Peet) doubt Father Joe in spite of the fact that he delivers the goods, the man’s personal life is more of an issue. He’s a convicted pedophile, which causes the sort of conflict between Scully and Mulder that allows them to do what they do best — launch into heated debates.
In those debates, Carter generates tension and interest. He also scores in a few chilling scenes of abduction, which are gripping in how well they’re staged. A subplot involving Scully’s current work as a doctor trying to keep a young boy alive is less successful — it feels forced and unnecessary, as if it’s only here to deliver the film’s final moment of revelation. Beyond that, “I Want to Believe” is reasonably entertaining and modestly successful — whether the show’s fans turn out for it or not.Grade: B-
On DVD and Blu-ray disc
On Blu-ray disc are two superior films, beginning with the release of Milos Forman’s Academy Award-winning 1975 film, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” which has lost none of its power or timeliness. Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher star opposite (and against) each other in a tense movie about one individual’s moving, funny, tragic and ultimately harrowing fight against the establishment. Cheers to Warner for offering it in such a crisp, high-definition transfer.
Available from Sony is Stefan Ruzowitzky’s excellent, Academy Award-winning foreign-language thriller “The Counterfeiters,” which is set during World War II and follows a group of Jews who had a talent for forgery during a time when such a skill could keep you alive while those in the same concentration camp died unimaginable deaths.
It’s a chilling, dicey film, one that never turns to melodrama but instead relies on the truth of its tale, which in this case is based on the life of Salomon Smolianoff (Karl Markovics, superb).
Ruzowitzky also wrote the script, and what he wrings from it via his direction is key to the film’s success — no embellishment was needed to tell the story of a man who had the difficult choice of using his skills to help fund Nazi Germany, which at once kept him in relative comfort while fueling the deaths of his own people. Ruzowitzky knew it was enough to tell the story straight, that the urgency would come through on its own, and he was right. It’s an unshakable movie, one of last year’s best.
www.WeekinRewind.com  is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, video podcasts, iTunes portal and archive of hundreds of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Mondays, Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on www.bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.