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The X Files: I Want to Believe

Glum Feebs and creepy dweebs mark this dull filmic comeback attempt.

reviewed by Mark Burns

An FBI agent is abducted from her home in the mountains of West Virginia, and her would-be rescuers at the Bureau are flummoxed. Their only break arrives in the form of allegedly psychic revelations of Father Joe (Billy Connolly: Open Season), a priest turned pariah. Head investigator Agent Whitney (Amanda Peet: The Martian Child) needs help wrangling the psychic talent, so she reaches out to former agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny: Californication) via Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson: The Last King of Scotland). The former X pair reunite and look into the dark once more, pursuing ghoulish criminals with the aid of a tainted holy man.

This is a far less ambitious leap to film than the first X Files movie, released 10 years ago. That one was Mulder’s audacious I-told-you-so, a perfect storm of government conspiracy and alien intervention that was far out even by the standards of ardent Roswellians. I Want to Believe, on the other hand, leaves the grand scheme behind for a more skeptical, tentative delve into psychic phenomenon and malicious medical strangeness.

At best, this film is a return to basics. It’s a tense, small, shadowy mystery with a tweak of the paranormal and elements of classic horror combined in echo of earlier X Files episodes. Mulder defies the ire of conventionalists to prove the truth of strangeness, while Scully acts as mediator to the daylight world, the skeptic in a strange land. Series creator Chris Carter takes the director’s chair and dials back from the extremes of the last cinematic attempt in an apparent effort to welcome home old-school fans.

But the formula has gone stale. For starters, it’s been 10 years since the last encounter, and Carter has done little to evolve his characters. Mulder is Hobbitted away in some farmhouse living as a bearded, sloppy bachelor surrounded by questionable news clippings. As for Scully, she’s quit the FBI for a surgeon’s post at a Catholic hospital. Her hairstyle is updated, but her perspective and worry furrows are as fixed as ever. The biggest difference? Both actors are distant from the roles they once inhabited, lacking confidence and chemistry.

The reunion of Mulder and Scully is a summary full of gaps. Their rekindling lurches stupidly from I don’t talk to him anymore to let’s work together to cuddlysnugglekins and onward. Witticisms are dim. Dialogue is unintelligent and too frequent, overpowering the action, strangeness and menace with bore. As a result, the film is ponderous in pacing. When flashes of criminal counterpoint do pop up, they are mediocre shocks seemingly derived from the Saw series.

In summary, it’s a disappointment. Even fans would probably be happier renting the series DVDs.

Poor • PG-13 • 105 mins.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

© Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation

Hugh Jackman reprises the role that made him a superstar, as the fierce fighting machine Wolverine, who possesses amazing healing powers, adamantium-coated claws and a primal fury known as berserker rage.

No comic hero opus, but it’ll do for a distraction.

reviewed by Mark Burns

The scene-stealing X-mutant growls his way to legend and slices his way through fanboy complainants in the hunt for blockbuster status.

Know them by their last names, because that’s cooler. Logan (Hugh Jackman: Australia), is a sickly lad born into the 19th century. By an early twist of mutation manifestation, he becomes a boy survivalist alongside elder brother figure Creed (Liev Schreiber: Defiance). The pair rumble forward through American history until sometime after Vietnam, when Logan grows weary and ditches their black ops gig. A quiet life in the Canadian Rockies is soon torn asunder by bloody rivalry, and so does Logan rage for revenge against Creed even as he challenges those who would exploit his power.

Comics themselves can’t be trusted for consistency, what with the tangle of alternate timelines and revisionist histories. But Wolverine, that antithetical avatar for closeted pudge, is one of the most sacred objects of comic geekdom. Here Hollywood has tinkered with his past, bringing into play questionable threads of connection that tripwire the greater X-universe. His grand rivalry with Creed (aka Sabretooth) has strange new underpinnings, and those in the know may cry fowl at portrayals of favorite characters Gambit (Taylor Kitsch: Friday Night Lights) and Deadpool.

So, for some, the popcorn won’t taste so good. But the story works for Hollywood’s purposes.

Connections to the prior X-Men movies — which have already gone askew — are drawn tidily enough. The redrawn Logan/Creed rivalry is surprisingly well developed and proves an efficient device to drive the plot. The movie is strongest in its early half, with tidy montage as summary and a stronger than expected emphasis on character to help offset such cliché ridiculousness as tragic love and a waterfall jumping escape. It’s when Wolverine meets with adamantium metallurgy that director Gavin Hood (Rendition) devolves his film toward blockbuster flash, overlaying cheesy dialogue and stale blockbuster conceits with hurried resolution.

Action is generally pretty solid and benefits from the new tricks of a fresh batch of heroes and villains. Gambit’s explosive kineticism is pretty nifty, to be true. And, despite ample violence, bloodshed is kept refreshingly minimal. Wolverine is given some room to play with his claws even if the filmmakers lack creativity for the possibilities and balk at embracing the character’s more vicious nature. Special effects border on corny, and some battle scenes are uninspired. The werewolf-ish introduction of a revolver loaded with adamantium bullets is just stupid.

The verdict? This is certainly no comic hero opus in the vein of Dark Knight or even Iron Man. But it’ll do for a distraction.

Fair action adventure • PG-13 • 107 mins.

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