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File and Forget

[whitespace] The X-Files
Merrick Morton

Conspiracy Theorists: A skeptical Gillian Anderson tugs at true believer David Duchovny's sleeve in the film version of the cult TV show.

'The X-Files' falls flat on the big screen

By Richard von Busack

TRUST NO ONE who tells you that The X-Files film was worth it. A gripping beginning unclenches its grip in the first half hour, and the rest of the movie is a slow-speed chase through the desert and the tundra. In expanding the visuals, director Rob Bowman lost the paranoid intimacy that was the show's salient point, and David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are not at their best as big-screen actors. Against huge computer-generated visuals, the pair's TV-style banter looks insensitive and dumb. So much of the original show, for better or worse, was predicated on its "that's for us to know, and you to find out" story lines; in explaining some, but not all, of the show's secrets, the film isn't nearly as mysterious. It is, however, baffling; if you aren't reasonably familiar with the show, you might not understand the background of disillusionment for the two heroes, both so ready to throw in the towel at various moments in the movie.

Both Scully and Mulder are on the point of quitting the FBI, even as the trouble they've been shooting at blindly during the past five years starts to reveal itself. Couldn't this movie, in addition to allowing Mulder to say some words forbidden by Fox TV's standards and practices department (and, of course, trying to get Scully in a long-delayed clinch), also have given the characters some sense of hope that they could fight the conspiracy? (After all, Scully and Mulder have escaped more assassination attempts than James Bond.)

Still, the first 30 minutes of The X-Files promise much. In suburban Texas, some children find a cave; one falls in and is consumed by the "black oil"--that alien virus that looks like subcutaneous leeches when it oozes into a victim. Days later, Mulder and Scully join a search team looking for a bomb inside a federal building. Despite their efforts, the bomb detonates, leaving the two under even more disfavor that usual from their FBI supervisors. On a tip from Dr. Kurtzweil (Martin Landau), a friend of Mulder's father, the two agents break into a government morgue and discover that a death chalked up to the explosion actually is due to infection.

From this point on, the film loses its momentum. Bowman and series creator Chris Carter constantly set up death traps and then leave doors open somewhere. What is the escape from the last of these--a climax at an alien convention center in the Antarctic--if not the ever-popular "crawl through the heating duct"? How does Scully get out of a morgue freezer, with the Army looking for her just outside? While The X-Files film is another example of a billion-dollar serial, like the Indiana Jones movies, the footwork isn't fast enough to distract you from the unlikelinesses. Also, the supporting cast doesn't support: Mitch Pileggi, Mulder and Scully's bald devil's advocate, scarcely has a scene, and the so-called "lone gunmen" conspiracy nerds (Dean Haglund, Tom Braidwood and Bruce Harwood) get only the slightest passing treatment. "Fight the future" is the tag line of this TV knockoff, but the movie has to fight the show's past, a tangled skein of story lines that hasn't yet been woven into a coherent narrative.

The X-Files (PG-13; 120 min.), directed by Rob Bowman, written by Chris Carter, photographed by Ward Russell and starring Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny and Martin Landau.

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From the June 18-24, 1998 issue of Metro.

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