Change the title, recast the actors, rename the heroes and The X-Files: I Want to Believe would still be a decent, creepy crime drama.
Whether that's enough to satisfy devotees of the television series is debatable.
X-Files-o-philes probably expect the alien conspiracies and dense paranormal phenomena that made Chris Carter's TV classic popular. They won't find them here.
They might also expect more of the intelligent romantic chemistry between Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). Apparently the flirtation that fans wished would be consummated eventually was, and it hasn't worked out as hoped.
Mulder and Scully aren't even FBI agents anymore. She's performing surgery in a pediatric hospital. He's a hermit after being drummed out of the agency on unexplained, bogus charges. Mulder even grew a bushy beard, which he'll shave off when he gets serious about solving the crackerjack mystery at hand.
The snare is set during a tense opening sequence, cross-cutting between an FBI search party combing frozen woods with a psychic leading the way, and the violent abduction of a woman who fights back with a garden tool, leaving distinct scars on her assailant. The searchers locate a severed arm under snow, bearing the same marks.
Cue the eerie, whistling X-Files theme song.
It turns out that the kidnap victim is an FBI agent. The psychic, an excommunicated priest named Father Joe (Billy Connolly) believes she's still alive. The FBI dispatches conventional agents (Amanda Peet, Xzibit) to convince the unconventional former X-Files division agents to assess Father Joe's credibility and find their colleague.
From there, I Want to Believe gets murkier by the minute. Carter and Frank Spotnitz's screenplay mashes themes of religious faith, child molestation, ethical medicine, weirdly gruesome science and even a two-headed dog. Further details would spoil the fun, or possibly turn off fans who have Web-speculated for months that werewolves or Martians are involved.
The screenwriters handle their movie's plot better than they do the two characters at its center. They throw in some references to things that happened in the TV series that have nothing to do with this movie. And some information is missing — we never find out why Scully is shocked that Mulder is so disheveled, when it seems they've been living together all along.
Duchovny and Anderson easily slip back into their characters, which weren't that challenging in the first place. The film's acting honors go to Connolly, normally a comedian, who makes Father Joe sympathetic despite his unsavory past. But when Father Joe isn't needed anymore, the writers simply shove him aside with an abrupt medical condition and let Mulder and Scully take over.
At times like that, The X-Files: I Want to Believe has the aura of a solid, stand-alone story with familiar characters plugged in to cash in. Will the faithful fall for it? The truth is out there, at box offices this weekend.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.