REVIEW: Reptile (2023, dir. Grant Singer)

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 136 mins

UK Distributor: Netflix

UK Release Date: 29 September 2023

WHO’S IN REPTILE?

Benicio del Toro, Justin Timberlake, Alicia Silverstone, Michael Pitt, Ato Essandoh, Domenick Lombardozzi, Karl Glusman, Matilda Lutz, Mike Pniewski, Thad Luckinbill, Sky Ferreira, Owen Teague, Frances Fisher, Eric Bogosian, Catherine Dyer, James Devoti, Michael Beasley

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Grant Singer (director, writer), Benjamin Brewer and Benicio del Toro (writers), Thad Luckinbill, Trent Luckinbill and Molly Smith (producers), Yair Elazar Glotman (composer), Michael Gioulakis (cinematographer), Kevin Hickman (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A world-weary detective (del Toro) investigates the murder of a young real estate agent…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON REPTILE?

You ever see a film that always promises it’s going to become something, but then it never does? Reptile, the debut feature of music video director Grant Singer (who’s worked with The Weeknd, Ariana Grande, Troye Sivan and many others), is exactly that: a movie that, despite an impressive cast and a more than acceptable concept, aimlessly drifts through its two-and-a-bit hour running time without so much as a compelling hook to tie all its convoluted threads onto.

Benicio del Toro, who also had a hand in writing the screenplay alongside Singer and Benjamin Brewer, is Tom Nichols, a detective who’s recently relocated to Scarborough, Maine with his wife Judy (Alicia Silverstone, straddled with the token “wife” role here) where he works for her police captain uncle Robert (Eric Bogosian). He is called round to investigate the murder of young realtor Summer Elswick (Matilda Lutz), whose boyfriend Will (Justin Timberlake), the heir to a real estate empire, came across her body after being stabbed so hard in her clavicle that the knife has been left stuck in place. Nichols makes his way around a number of suspects, from Will to her lowly ex-husband Sam (Karl Glusman) to the shady-looking Eli (Michael Pitt) who has a severe grudge against Will and his family, and as he draws ever closer to cracking the case, he begins to uncover a number of secrets that some people would prefer to keep hidden.

Reptile is, through and through, a prototypical police procedural movie. It goes through all the motions of a typical criminal case, carries a certain number of familiar archetypes from the hard-boiled detective to the red-herring suspect, and has a deep conspiracy that may or may not also involve a few crooked cops. Now, a film of this type can work just fine, so long as the central mystery itself is intriguing enough to keep your attention, or failing that done in a visually interesting way, like David Fincher’s Se7en or even a majority of the Saw movies. However, the script never reaches a point where you really are meant to care about this particular case, or any of the people involved, despite it constantly drip-feeding information about them that should be more compelling than it is. Not even the main detective in this movie seems to care all that much at first; he’s more occupied with finding a new sensor-activated tap for his kitchen than he is with narrowing down the list of murder suspects.

The lack of immediacy – which, again, shows in the two-plus hour running time – leaves the viewer without anything to latch onto, because the main mystery lacks the twists and turns that are necessary to keep the reveal from being fairly obvious, the characters are mostly just stock crime thriller types that you’ve seen in so many other police procedural movies, and even Singer’s direction, although competent enough, is dry and dull. It is largely just a collection of standard cop movie conventions, with very little added to make them feel fresh or exciting, and executed in a way that feels as though the filmmakers themselves were daydreaming of other things they could be doing that were more interesting. You’re left feeling more bored than you are invested in what’s going on, and after a certain point, when particular plot points begin to finally converge and get tangled up in each other, you’ll be wishing for someone else to get killed in just as grim a fashion as the main victim, because then at least something of value would have happened.

That said, it isn’t a poorly made film. Yes, Singer’s direction is dull and nowhere near as lively as some of his music videos, but there are times when you can see a spark of inspiration in the cinematography, when it’s clearly not trying to emulate the work of David Fincher or Steven Soderbergh. There are also some decent performances, particularly Benicio del Toro who has a gruff screen presence in a role where he can also be quite charming when he’s not drowning in a script of mediocrity (a script that he co-wrote, by the way). Other actors don’t fare quite as well, including Justin Timberlake who’s only ever as good as his director, and under Singer’s watch he’s pretty bland in a role that’s really not that hard to figure out.

Ultimately, the biggest disappointment about Reptile is its constant refusal to be something more than it’s already being. By sticking to its police procedural template, following it almost to the letter with little to no deviations from the formula, it never becomes the sophisticated and complex thriller that it clearly thinks it is already. Instead, it’s overly dry and portentous to a fault, failing to draw the viewer in with enough material to ensure they stick around by the end. Instead, they’ll have switched over to One Piece before the killer is finally revealed.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Reptile is an unfortunate slog of a crime thriller that sticks so closely to the police procedural formula that it ends up doing nothing else that’s interesting for the entirety of its two-plus hour running time, which makes it rather dull and portentous to sit through.

Click here to stream Reptile on Netflix!

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