September 29th, 2023
STARRING: BENICIO DEL TORO, JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, ALICIA SILVERSTONE, ERIC BOGOSIAN, FRANCES FISHER, MICHAEL PITT
DIRECTED BY: GRANT SINGER
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 STARS (Out of 4)
Reptile has this excellent performance at the center, stuck inside of a murder mystery that doesn’t know how to elevate everything else around it. The recipe is there for newcomer Grant Singer, a music video director for names such as The Weekend, Lorde, and Sam Smith, making a film that feels like his attempt to be David Fincher. When you have a legend like Benicio Del Toro it is easy to make your movie look good. Sadly, you still need to stick the landing, and Reptile does a good job of drawing us into the mystery, it just rushes the ending and that feels like a crime.
We are introduced to Tom Nichols (Del Toro) as he enters the home of Will Grady (Justin Timberlake), where his girlfriend Summer (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) has been brutally murdered. Raped, her hands cut up, a stab wound in her throat, and the blade still lodged in her hip bone. Who could have done this we ask. There is a gaggle of suspects, with Will as the first suspect, followed by a creeping neighbor named Eli Phillips (Michael Pitt in full creep mode), Will’s overbearing mother Camille (Frances Fisher), and her ex-husband Sam (Karl Glusman). It becomes up to Tom and his partner (played by Ato Essandoh) to connect the dots and figure out who the killer is.
From the onset, there is a capturing of the tone of typical mystery films such as this. Procedurals similar to Seven, Along Came a Spider, or recently with Boston Strangler. But unlike those other films, Reptile isn’t interested in making any of the surrounding characters as convincing as Del Toro’s. His wife Judy (played strongly by Alicia Silverstone) plays a role in helping Tom in his pursuit, while his captain (Eric Bogosian) and fellow narcotics police officer Wally (Domenick Lombardozzi) are nearly there as suspected crooked cops. Neither can hold a candle to the work Del Toro is doing and one wonders if it all could have been simplified.
One surprising factor is that Singer co-wrote the screenplay with Benjamin Brewer and Del Toro, which makes sense because it feels like three parts. The first half of the mysterious murder, the second half where the suspects become more clear, and Del Toro cleaning up his character’s depth. It doesn’t help that two of the early suspects, Timberlake and Pitt, are both delivering laughable performances, something I’ve never seen from either before. The Social Network star seems to be straining to make himself a bad guy, almost like he’s uncomfortable outside of his pop-star persona. It becomes evident fast that this is Grant’s first feature, where a more experienced director may have been able to generate more suspense, especially when rushing the end.
Reptile slithers around in the standard tropes of a murder investigation, pushing the lead character down a path of obsession, something that leads to predictable danger. One would hope that this would turn up the suspense or we would get a twist shocking enough to give it a bite. Instead, it’s just an ending that leaves one feeling cold-blooded. Reptile is missing the venom to make it a potent new thriller. It’s too bad. Del Toro deserves more than that.
REPTILE IS CURRENTLY PLAYING ON NETFLIX.
Written by: Leo Brady