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A movie for X-philes

A big-screen underachiever, more questions without good answers, and other cultural buzz

The Truth is Out there

Reach out, reach out, and trust no one. So the X-Files are on the big screen (rated PG-13 for gore and vulgarity). All the fans of the TV show are going to go see it. A lot of the uninitiated will buy tickets to see what all the fuss is about. That's no excuse for some of the laziest blockbuster sci-fi filmmaking in recent memory. Everything that happens is a plot device furthering a nonexistent plot. There's the big oozing evil (like in The Fifth Element and Sphere) that threatens to conquer the world and turn everybody into dark, bellowing aliens with bad fingernails. Guess who stands as humanity's only hope? Agents Mulder and Scully (David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson). Their problem is that they're being used as scapegoats in a massive cover-up of the whole thing. There are also some prehistoric cavemen, black helicopters, black limousines, secret government installations, and a swarm of alien-infected bees. It's the sort of thing that was spoofed in Men In Black just last year. The story bumbles around like a serialized comic-book story, endlessly changing settings and danger. Nothing is well explained or resolved, but why should the filmmakers bother? Everything that goes on in the X-Files is part of a big extraterrestrial conspiracy that we wouldn't understand anyway. Thus, instead of evoking paranoia or suspense, the movie merely evokes confusion. Our leads fare pretty well. Mr. Duchovny, a poor man's Harrison Ford, does okay with this paint-by-numbers script. Director Rob Bowman is a veteran of TV shows like X-Files, Dark Shadows, and Star Trek: The Next Generation, and it shows. Every scene seems to build toward a commercial. The X-Files movie isn't necessarily bad by TV standards, but it's an underachiever on the big screen. With an established cult favorite on its hands, 20th Century Fox didn't need to try hard to make something memorable. It only had to present a routine story with plenty of special effects and oozing alien guts to coerce sci-fans into coming to theaters. So the real conspiracy here is against the audience. Maybe the truth will be revealed to studio executives. Pop Culture Rant

Think of Joe Queenan as P.J. O'Rourke without the libertarian politics. He writes for TV Guide and now has a book out called Red Lobster, White Trash, and the Blue Lagoon. Mr. Queenan's style is called Pop Culture Rant. It's a cross between the hip lit of Hunter S. Thompson and the manic malaise that results from watching too much television. Mr. Queenan hates Dennis Rodman. He hates Phil Collins. He hates Joan Collins. He likes Barry Manilow because Barry's badness is an honest badness, not like the dishonest badness of Kenny G or John Tesh. At one point he says he went to a Manhattan multiplex and handed out money to people leaving showings of Gone Fishin', a comedic flop starring Joe Pesci and Danny Glover. He told people he was with the League of Cinematic Retribution and was passing out refunds. Lobster's theme is that Mr. Queenan decided to go on a quest to see everything tacky and tasteless on the American scene and write it all down. Actually, it reads like he emptied out the hard drive of his computer of old ideas, freelance articles, and unused one-liners. Some of this material works. Mr. Queenan can pull off some pretty slick one-liners and off-the-wall allusions. New Age guru Deepak Chopra talks like "Inscrutable Orient Meets Bill Moyer's Greatest Hits." A Kmart in Greenwich Village is like "a Tupac Shakur impersonator at a Shriners convention." Some of it doesn't. He hits the usual cranky-writer standards with shots at Las Vegas, bad sequels, and overweight tourists who visit New York City. Progressing through Mr. Queenan's Lobster tale is like reading stand-up comedy. If one joke doesn't work, wait around for a better one. Except nowadays nobody needs to be reminded of the badness of Taco Bell, David Hasselhoff, and Michael Bolton. There's a ton of such nonsense on every channel. Who needs Joe Queenan? We need someone else to solve the great mystery of the millennium: Where's the good stuff? Christian musician wails

Steve Scott has spent his career trying to figure out how Christians can use the arts effectively. He earned a cult following in the Christian music scene with well-crafted pop albums like Love in the Western World and Magnificent Obsession. Over 30 years he's traveled the world, recorded with Larry Norman and Randy Stonehill, published poetry, explored performance art, and taught at Biola University. He's also published a book on Christ and culture topics called Like a House on Fire (Cornerstone). Mr. Scott's book resembles his music-thought-provoking, energetic, and wildly uneven. He offers advice for those engaging the culture. Believers must understand postmodernity and speak clearly to an audience that is anesthetized by brand names and sound bites. "For them the gospel may not only be good news, but new news," he writes. Mr. Scott's main irritation is with Christians who produce bad art and use silly, pious excuses for incompetence. He warns readers not to take a Gnostic leap away from the material world, saying material equals evil. Christians should not shy away from painful or difficult subjects either. To familiarize his audience with the issues, he presents an eagle's-eye summary of the rise and fall of Western thought, from Plato to postmodernists like Jean-François Lyotard. He raises some decent points, but his work lacks much of a positive agenda. Fire is a scattershot treatment of a bunch of issues that needs organization and focus. Mr. Scott knows what isn't working, but he can't express clearly what good art can replace the bad. The section he includes on the narrative of John's Gospel comes off too forced and eccentric. The contemporary role models he finds are mostly multicultural. Ten years ago he had a "Eureka!" experience at an arts conference in Bali that revolutionized his thinking. So Scott spends too many paragraphs clucking at ethnocentrism and basking in the glories of non-Western religious art. This British artist knows Christendom is on hard times and wants to survive amidst the ruins. Alas, his cultural pensées raise more questions than answers.