'X-Files' keeps the game in play Review: On the big screen, the conspiracy- flecked series is just as edgy, just as witty, just as sophisticated.


Unlike the paranormal events it chronicles every week, the hit television show "The X-Files" can be programmed, categorized and easily referenced.

It appeals to the conspiracy buff in all of us, with the siren call of government cover-ups, shadowy well-dressed cabals and -- bonus! -- extraterrestrials of the Roswell, N.M., variety. It is science fiction at its most sophisticated -- no pie plates on strings, no time warps, just the stuff of the human imagination on its darkest, wildest day.

Its stories teem with memorable and often recurring themes and characters, all of which will one day connect in the Grand Unified Theory that will link the Kennedy assassination, Area 51 and why you can't find a decent cup of coffee on I-95.

Skeptics who doubted that a feature film version of "The X-Files" could equal the show's quirky appeal, or feared that it would spoil the series, can be of good cheer. "The X-Files" has pulled off a trifecta where TV-inspired movies are concerned: It deepens and expands the story for hard-core fans; it adheres to the writing, acting and production values that have made the series so popular; and director Rob Rowman gracefully introduces enough exposition so newcomers will find it engaging.

In other words, "The X-Files" doesn't mess with success.

The story opens in 35,000 B.C. in North Texas, where in an ice-bound catacomb beneath the Earth's surface, two men do battle with a being that has the cranial configuration of E.T. and the temperament of Sigourney Weaver's alien.

Cut to present day, when a group of kids in North Texas digs a deep hole and discovers some human remains. While one of the boys (Lucas Black from "Sling Blade") holds a skull in his hand, black oil begins to puddle around his feet. And, as any "X-Files" fan will tell you, that means trouble.

Cut to Dallas (the mother lode for conspiracists everywhere), where FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) prowl the rooftop of a building next to a federal office where a bomb threat has been phoned in. They have climbed to the roof on one of Mulder's famous hunches which, he reminds Scully and the audience, have never been wrong.

Be that as it may, the bomb does go off, an event that sets a series of cataclysms into motion. Mulder and Scully are investigated, their team is broken up, a mysterious man from Mulder's past appears and the agents embark on a journey that will take them from Washington to Texas to Antarctica -- and, just briefly, beyond.

The truth is out there. But there are also people out there who find "The X-Files" brand of irony too cute, Mulder's punctuation-free speeches trying and Scully's affectless manner listless rather than just tastefully underplayed.

But even people who generally don't keep watching Fox (the network, not Mulder) after "King of the Hill" will find the show's strengths have served it well as an intelligent sci-fi feature. "The dTC X-Files," written by series creator Chris Carter, earns plaudits for sticking to the virtues of the franchise, which are its deadpan humor, its straightforward narratives and its clearly defined characters.

And if you didn't tune into the season's final episode, not to worry. Few if any of the elements introduced in that broadcast come into play here.

Instead, Carter has reached further back into the "X-Files" archives to move Mulder and Scully closer to that tantalizingly evasive truth. The Cigarette-Smoking Man is here, as is the Well-Manicured Man. The Lone Gunmen -- a bunch of cybernerds from Baltimore -- pop up just when they're needed most, and the killer bees even buzz in for good measure.

How that all leads to Antarctica (the only point where the action and story lag) is for filmgoers to find out, although it won't bring anyone any closer to knowing just why Cigarette and Manicure are in bed with the little green men.

The best things about "The X-Files," aside from its restraint from giving the whole game away, are the small touches of humor gracing what could be an excessively Gothic tale: At one point someone relieves himself on a tattered "Independence Day" poster (another huge hit by Fox) and Martin Landau provides comic relief as a buff who's been looking under manhole covers too long.

Funniest of all is that the Federal Emergency Management Agency turns out to have more creepily sub-rosa power than the Trilateral Commission. Here we've been chasing black helicopters, and it's those baby blue FEMA trucks we should have been worrying about all along.

"The X-Files"

Directed by Rob Bowman

Starring David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Martin Landau, Blythe Danner

Rated PG-13 (some intense violence and gore) Running time 121 minutes

Released by 20th Century Fox

Sun Score ***

Pub Date: 6/19/98

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