The X-Files TV series of the 1990s was at its best early on, when then-FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) still put their humor where their awe was, and vice versa. Early episodes were an up-tempo blend of sarcasm and the surreal. The “I want to believe mantra” was allowed a self-deprecating side. But early wittiness gradually yielded to conspiracies of the dark, eventually thickening the refreshment to a milky standstill.
The second post-series movie begins as a pleasant throwback: No aliens, no overt conspiracies, no arcane agendas. Mulder, bearded, and Scully, Catholic, are re-united to help track down a missing FBI agent with the help of a convicted pedophile priest (yes). The early pace is brisk, the suspense palpable, the creepy subject (organ theft) X-Files like.
What subdues the film is creator Chris Carter’s inclination to fidget with the dimmer. As he delves into Scully’s newfound spiritual conflicts (she’s now a surgeon in a Catholic hospital), the old Mulder-Scully magic is sundered in favor of “bigger questions,” medical ethics, the morality of belief, the nature of bond between the two now-retired but always game agents, who are closer than ever.
Lost in this meaning-chase is lightness of touch. Mulder’s early barbs fall away; Scully’s grimace takes over. The sinister goings-on, which promise a lot, are resolved fairly conventionally.
A bit of a tease, this project, since Mulder-Scully still have gas in their tank. If only someone let them loosen up. It doesn’t happen here.