Don’t get me wrong, Grant Singer’s Reptile delivers its promising grizzly noir procedural in the most thrilling manner, but then, as if shooting us in the gut, fizzles everything out in the end with far less grit. In the first 40 minutes or so of Reptile, I thought to myself, This is like Zodiac, keeping me on the edge of my seat in wonder, shock, awe—all of the right feelings for a detective film like itself. Reptile does everything right aesthetically: gray for melancholy and a leather jacket for the detective, who himself appears as morally gray, but under the surface it simply comes across as a half-baked experiment.
Produced by and starring Benicio Del Toro, who also co-wrote the film, Reptile paints a picture of a small-town murder where a hardened detective weeds his way to the truth. Tom Nichols (Del Toro) is a detective with a shady past who hopes for a perfectly pleasant future with his wife. When a young female realtor is killed in a home she’s trying to sell, everyone around seems like a probable suspect. Will Grady (Justin Timberlake) is her innocent boyfriend who is blinded by love for a cheating partner. An ex-husband whom she’s still seeing or the weird guy who lives across the street and is certain Will and his mother are spawns of Satan. Who is the murderer?
Maybe Singer wanted to write a love letter to David Fincher and decided to unfold the story in a similar manner to the veteran, which leads one to believe that there are more twists to expect than there actually are. Del Toro is intriguingly wonderful as the anxious and probably trauma-stricken detective Nichols, acting with his eyebrows and making stoic expressions that leave us pondering with him. On the other hand, the highlight performance has to be that of Alicia Silverstone as his wife, who keeps us in the gray area from start to finish. There is a point to Reptile, yes. It has some possibly untold underlying message about cops and small towns, but it’s not effective and not as untold as they make it seem. Justin Timberlake feels rather underutilized, and there’s more than just wasted potential here. I won’t deny the unsettling nature of the film, and I was already recommending it to people when I was halfway through, but then the ending felt hollow, misguided by all the red herrings.
There’s something half-baked about this tale, which is what fails it at the end of the day. Reptile is well made, the score is solid, and so is everything else that is needed for a good film, minus the story. Pacing is slow and sometimes feels tedious, only because the resulting twists are dissatisfying. The first half of the film builds profound intrigue, often tantalizing the viewers with whatever horrible thing that’s happened to this poor woman; however, as the narrative unfolds, going into the last 30 minutes of the film, it just leaves you in a state of bewilderment.
What really stands out about Reptile is Del Toro’s performance, and if it were a film dedicated to Tom’s mind, it may have worked out better for all of us. Del Toro carries the film on his back, and interestingly, the best parts of the film are where we see him interact with his wife. There are a lot of sweet spots that get lost in the plot of this dry story, one of which is about this middle-aged couple and how they go about their lives as detective and wife. There’s so much to pick up on there; why don’t they have kids? Unlike usual, Nichols is very open with Judy about his case and even enlists her help in the investigation, a rare sight in procedurals where the wife is the last to know anything about the cool cop.
Even with its dull and rather horrifying premise, Reptile happens to be rather humorous, which makes it more watchable. By this point, Del Toro’s wrinkles feel like old friends of mine from all the close-up shots, but that’s not a dig on the film; it really brings out the shadiness of this whole situation. Still, all of that can’t save Reptile from biting its own tail.
It’s possible that this movie packed with this mind-blowing cast will be obscured by Netflix’s messed-up algorithm, which might just be alright. The 2-hour, 15-minute run time makes things worse, and it seems that only machismo can bring Reptile success and viewership. That’s not to say that Del Toro isn’t fantastic and just playing off of his masculinity, but it’s more about who might enjoy watching Reptile. If it is, in fact, something meant to be enjoyed, I wonder what one should say if they like such a film, because it almost feels a little bit sadistic. However, we’re better off watching these than true crime-based films and shows about serial killers who are long gone (yes, Ryan Murphy, looking at you).
There’s something appealing about Reptile, so I wouldn’t go as far as to say don’t watch it, but proceed with caution. There’s no need to put all your attention into the 135 minutes of this film, but it’s definitely watchable. Tedious as it may be, Reptile seems to be an experiment that fails at the end because of its own buildup. There’s a lot of profanity, some violent visuals, and no sex. I’d give Reptile 3 out of 5 stars for the performances by Del Toro and Silverstone and the ambitious nature of the film.