Perhaps they should have called it X and the City.
Given the phenomenal, $150 million haul of Sex and the City, the makers of The X-Files: I Want to Believe doubtless hope that their big-screen adaptation of a wildly popular TV series will meet with a similar fate. I'm not seeing it, but that's not to say that this film doesn't deserve to have things (read: the box office) mostly go its way. Although much of the viewing experience has already faded from my mind (hardly a ringing endorsement, I'll grant), what remains is how the film manages to resurrect the eerie aura that marinated the series during its nine-year run.
As a casual viewer who caught a handful of episodes over the years (if I actually watched prime-time television like most Americans, the series probably would have ranked high on my must-see-TV list), it's hard for me to gauge whether diehard fans of the show will be satisfied with what creator Chris Carter (who directed and co-wrote the film) has delivered. On the other hand, it's safe to say that newbies won't get what's going on. Despite Carter's claims that the movie functions as a stand-alone feature and no knowledge of the program is required, that's far from the truth. Former FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), now going through life as, respectively, a bearded recluse and a skilled physician, occasionally mention that they're still haunted by memories of Mulder's deceased sister and Scully's deceased child, but as I couldn't recall any details as to how the series wrapped up those plotlines, virginal viewers will have even less of a clue what the hell these people are yammering about.
Where the film works is in establishing and sustaining the proper mood. In this typical summer of blockbuster bombast, Carter has dared to remain true to the series' low-key approach, accentuating shadowy menaces and maintaining the proper friction between Mulder's desire to believe in the supernatural and Scully's need to remain skeptical and grounded in the real world. Carter has taken great pains to insure that plot details remain a secret, so let's just say that it's great to see these two characters (and actors) together again.
And be sure to stick through the closing credits. The groovy graphics, initially pointless, do end up providing viewers with one final surprise. Contrary to the established norm, it's not the usual setup for yet another sequel, simply a goodwill gesture (literally) that should please the X-Files faithful.
THINK OF THE new film version of Brideshead Revisited as instant coffee: If you don't have time to savor the 300-plus pages of Evelyn Waugh's 1945 novel or all 11 hours of the 1981 British miniseries, then a quick gulp of this 135-minute adaptation might suffice.
Roughly set between the two world wars, the story finds middle-class Brit Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode) becoming deeply involved with the members of the aristocratic Flyte family. At college, he's befriended by the rowdy dandy Sebastian (Ben Whishaw), who eventually takes him to his family's palatial estate, Brideshead. There, Charles acquaints himself with Sebastian's lovely sister Julia (Hayley Atwell), and soon he realizes that he's more comfortable with hetero- rather than homosexual love. Sebastian is heartbroken, while the siblings' frosty, control-freak mother, the devoutly Catholic Lady Marchmain (Emma Thompson), doesn't consider Charles a proper suitor for her daughter, given the fact that he's an atheist.
Even those not familiar with Waugh's book or the TV show should get the feeling as they watch this movie that something's missing. Forget about changes from the original text: On its own terms, this often feels rushed and choppy, with relationships unsatisfactorily turning on a dime and director Julian Jarrold failing to provide the piece with enough of a Merchant-Ivory luster to hide any narrative deficiencies (Jarrold's Jane Austen yarn, Becoming Jane, was similarly agreeable yet equally uninspired).
But the meat-and-potatoes portion of Waugh's work -- the role of religion in a person's life -- remains intact, leading to weighty conflicts rarely seen in modern movies. This focus alone makes the material worth revisiting yet again.
To see the trailers from The X-Files: I Want to Believe and Brideshead Revisited, go to www.theclogblog.com. And check out the CLog on Friday for opening-day reviews of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor and Swing Vote.