Film Reviews

The Why? movie

The X-Files is a movie that answers questions...No, wait a minute. The X-Files is a movie that asks questions...Hmmm. OK. The X-Files is a movie that makes me wanna ask some questions, like: What the hell does "Fight the future" mean? I mean, I can understand "The truth is out there"--a subtle double entendre if ever there was one. But "Fight the future"? That ad tag line--apparently no longer part of the film's title--is intriguing without yielding any concrete meaning--just like The X-Files film itself.

Still, you've got to hand it to screenwriter-creator Chris Carter, co-writer Frank Spotnitz, and director Rob Bowman. Transplanting an ongoing TV series to the big screen is fraught with dangers, most of which the new film version successfully skirts. Three potential problems are especially perilous. First of all, how do you satisfy obsessive fans without totally baffling neophytes? Secondly, what can the film offer that everybody isn't already getting for free every week at home? And, finally, how do you deliver enough answers to the questions around which the TV show is constructed without scuttling the show itself?

Only the next two weeks of box-office receipts and Internet chatter will answer the first two questions. For those of us who are neither obsessive fans nor neophytes--I've seen most but not all of the last two seasons and a bunch of earlier reruns--the film is a satisfying entertainment, diverting and frequently amusing. The filmmakers have wisely followed the Star Trek II strategy by giving us a two-hour X-Files episode with better production values.

The last issue is the trickiest one, and it's trickier still to discuss it without giving away central plot surprises. The movie opens with a prologue that invokes memories of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, not to mention the plot of that underrated classic Five Million Years to Earth: It's 35,000 years ago in North Texas, before there was a Fox Network or a Fox Mulder, and there's something (or someone) lurking the frozen surface. After five minutes of spiffy, if confusing, action, we leap forward into the present; suddenly, hilariously, Plano's a housing development in the desert.

In a seemingly unrelated plot line--it doesn't stay unrelated for long--Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), back to FBI field work after the dismantling of the X-Files unit in the season-ending cliffhanger, are scanning a government building in Dallas after a bomb threat has been phoned in. (That Dallas is located in the middle of a dusty, mountainous wasteland is perhaps the film's biggest mystery.) The sequence allows the filmmakers to do one of those things that TV can never deliver as well as the big screen: As Billy Sol Hurok and Big Jim McBob used to say, they blow stuff up good, real good. Yet, at the same time, there's something rather distasteful about the way the film uses a deliberate simulacrum of the real-life Oklahoma City bombing as part of its plot setup.

Just as in the many episodes of the show, Mulder soon realizes that this "terrorist" bombing is Not What It Seems, but is just another manifestation of the jumbled UFO/shadow-government conspiracy he's been tracking on the small screen for five years. Soon he is getting info from the possibly unreliable Dr. Alvin Kurtzweil (Martin Landau), as well as running into such series semi-regulars as The Well-Manicured Man (John Neville), The Lone Gunmen (Dean Haglund, Bruce Harwood, and Tom Braidwood), and, of course, The Cigarette-Smoking Man (William B. Davis). Also showing up for the fun are Blythe Danner as an FBI official, Glenne Headly in a cameo as a barmaid, Terry O'Quinn (co-star of Chris Carter's other series, Millennium) as mysterious FBI agent Darius Michaud, and even the great German actor Armin Mueller-Stahl as Conrad Strughold, one of the cabal of Old White Males who seem to have taken over control of the universe from the Masons. Disappointingly, the popular Mitch Pileggi--whose Assistant Bureau Director Walter Skinner is the third most important character on the TV show--doesn't get to do much but glower and issue warnings.

Most of The X-Files film is good, clean, dopey fun. As has already been announced on every talk show around, the film does not consummate the potential Mulder-Scully romance, though the issue is touched on briefly and cleverly. There are several very droll moments, most notably Mulder's confession-exposition bit in a bar. And the character names are a hoot: Kurtzweil, Bronschweig, Darius Michaud--suggesting, respectively, a keyboard, a deli delight, and either a French composer or an early black filmmaker.

But even by the standards of good, clean, dopey fun, man, does this movie have some Godzilla-sized plot holes! It's silly enough to stage a major catastrophe in order to destroy a roomful of evidence while disguising your intent, but to do it without succeeding at destroying the evidence and then not to follow up and finish the job--well, that's just dumb. The plot is hard enough to follow anyway--and some really dark cinematography doesn't help--but the egregious disdain for logic may make newcomers in particular throw up their hands in confusion.

While the movie does unequivocally clear up one of the show's ongoing mysteries, it leaves plenty of questions still to be solved in the show's next season and the franchise's big-screen sequels. After all, a number of central issues are barely touched upon: There's only a brief mention of Mulder's sister, whose "abduction" is the linchpin holding together his whole obsessive quest, and there are no shape-shifters. Certainly it would have been impossible--and disastrous to Fox's TV cash cow--to clear up everything. And, even as it is, the situations have an overwhelming sense of familiarity to anyone who's watched even a few episodes of the show. The filmmakers even acknowledge this: "How many times have we been here before, Scully?" Mulder asks. You almost expect Scully to say, "Let's see: Five seasons so far, at 22 episodes per season...About 110!" But no such luck.

The X-Files.
Directed by Rob Bowman. Screenplay by Chris Carter. Starring David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Martin Landau, and William B. Davis. Opens Friday.

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Andy Klein