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The X-Files: I Want to Believe (PG-13) **½

David Duchovny, left, and Gillian Anderson are shown in a scene from, "The X-Files: I Want to Believe." Photo: Diyah Pera.
David Duchovny, left, and Gillian Anderson are shown in a scene from, "The X-Files: I Want to Believe." Photo: Diyah Pera.

By Connie Ogle, The Miami Herald

Call it the anti Dark Knight: The new X-Files movie must be the least-hyped film of the summer, if not the entire year. It’s unclear why the studio has been so shy about I Want to Believe, which, if not exactly thrilling or groundbreaking, would have made a fairly solid (though not top-notch) episode of the Fox TV series. The plot is more convoluted than it ought to be — trimmed down to episode size, it might’ve been better — but fans can’t help but enjoy seeing the FBI heroes Fox Mulder and Dana Scully on the big screen after all this time.

Series creator Chris Carter, who co-wrote the script with XF alum Frank Spotnitz, has smartly freed himself from the impenetrable web of the alien invasion conspiracy that was the focus of the show and the first XF film, Fight the Future. Instead, he turns to another pet theme: The difficulty of sustaining faith in difficult times. What is Mulder’s relentless search for the truth if not a demand for an answer to mankind’s No. 1 question? (XF was never just about the monsters or the aliens. Even though monsters and aliens are fun.) I Want to Believe turns out to be introspective, never really achieving a good scare. It’s content instead to be mildly creepy and reflective, a mood sustained by the near-constant snowfall and chilly landscapes.

The film opens with a call to Scully (Gillian Anderson), now working at a Catholic hospital. An FBI agent (Amanda Peet) and her skeptical sidekick (a surprisingly effective Alvin ”Xzibit” Joiner) want her to track down the off-the-grid Mulder (David Duchovny) to help with a tricky case involving missing women, body parts and a psychic pedophile priest (Billy Connolly), who claims to see visions of the victims.

Scully is repulsed by the priest’s past, but she knows where Fox’s den is — of course she does; she lives there — and soon the partners are squabbling about his stubborn insistence on throwing himself wholeheartedly back into the dark side and her reluctance to follow him there.

In the meantime, Scully’s also trying to save a sick young boy at the hospital, though it’s hard to say how successful she’ll be, considering she’s downloading tips on stem cell therapy off Google.

Not all of the plot threads pan out convincingly, and some of the FBI work is about as effective as a Keystone Kops operation. Hardcore fans will recognize some of the faces, and one hilarious theme song moment almost makes up for the film’s missteps. But what fuels I Want to Believe is the potent chemistry between Duchovny and Anderson, anything but dormant after all these years.

The writers know these characters — the believer seeking the truth no matter how outlandish; the religious skeptic with her own rock-hard belief in science — and the actors step into their roles without missing a beat. There’s a delightful amount canoodling between Mulder and Scully in I Want to Believe — I knew those two were fooling around all these years — and it’s a lot of fun to watch. Sadly, their behavior only points out that the XF writers, as pig-headed as Mulder, shouldn’t have avoided the inevitable for so long. They probably shouldn’t have waited so long to make this film, either. But at least I Want to Believe provides a welcome reminder of what made Carter’s franchise a pop-culture gem.

Cast: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly, Alvin ”Xzibit” Joiner.

Director: Chris Carter.

Screenwriters: Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz.

Producers: Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz.

A 20th Century Fox release. Running time: 110 minutes. Violent and disturbing content, thematic material. Playing at: area theaters.