Lost in the Reel’s video review for Netflix’s Reptile

When did we last get a show-stopping leading performance from Benicio Del Toro?  It feels like forever since we’ve seen the stoic Oscar-winning actor headline a great film.  Denis Villeneuve’s Sicaro from 2015 comes to mind, yet Del Toro was much more of a supporting player in that movie.  However, in Reptile, his undeniable presence is stamped all over the screen… from his producing and writing credit to the fact that he is in nearly every frame of this flick (at least, once his character is introduced).  And I am pleased to report that he gives one helluva performance in Reptile…. Capturing the essence of this rough, desensitized cop who also has a quirky and tender side to him.  Sadly, I also have to divulge that this is far from a great starring vehicle for him.  


Reptile follows Detective Nichols, a hardened New England man who has been relocated due to his former partner’s corruption.  He settles into his new town fast, remodeling his home with his wife and making nice with his fellow officers.  Everything is thrown into chaos, though, when a local realtor is murdered at one of her properties, and the list of suspects continues to grow by the day.  Nichols’ own resolve, loyalty, and integrity will be tested on his hunt to find the killer. 


Reptile does start off strong.  As a sucker for noir films, first-time feature director Grant Singer nails the genre’s atmosphere.  Singer has worked extensively on music videos for The Weeknd, Taylor Swift, Sam Smith, Troye Sivan, and many others… Shows that he has quite a visionary eye.  Reptile exudes everything, stylistically, that you could want from a noir film.  From off-kilter camera angles, contemplative shots of figures walking through hallways, shadows lingering in every frame, sudden cut-aways, reflections causing vertigo… Singer directs the hell out of this movie with so much gusto.  But, and I hate using this term, yet it describes Reptile to a tee… This is all style over substance.  


The screenplay is 100% to blame for all of the movie’s faults.  What starts off mysterious and intriguing becomes a tired exercise in pulling the rug out from under the audience and trying to trick them at every turn.  There are so many red herrings and gotcha-moments in Reptile that they just become groan-inducing after the tenth or eleventh one.  The plot is so thin that I found myself waiting for it to grow into something more involving.  But, the screenplay keeps you at arm’s length at all times in a conscious effort to keep you from figuring out all of the tricks it has up its sleeve.  Which, no spoilers, are not all that shocking or hard to figure out.  

Another frustrating attribute is that the spine-tingling score from Yair Elazar Glotman is left to do so much heavy lifting to create suspense and tension.  It guides you by the hand, telling you when you should be nervous or frightened rather than letting the images on the screen tell the story.  Yet, if Glotman’s composition had not been so present or as bombastic as it is, Reptile would have been a complete and utter snoozefest. 


All of this would be more forgivable if the writers had found a way for you to care about this cast of characters more.  And there are some attempts at fleshing these people out a bit, but they all seem haphazard and almost random.  Like the inclusion of line dancing, our protagonist’s nickname “Oklahoma” and an obsession with a faucet.  These character details feel more unintentionally silly and shoehorned-in, rather than adding any depth.  The rule of thumb is, if you don’t care about the characters… How are you going to care about what’s going on in the movie?  The answer is, you can’t. 

And despite Del Toro’s honest efforts and his genuine chemistry with Alicia Silverstone… I felt it impossible to connect to any of these people.  And the longer this movie drags on, the more you feel the screenplay desperately searching for some greater, profound meaning to it all.  But, it fails in finding any sort of substantial theme to hold on to after the credits toll.


It’s a shame as I was really looking forward to Reptile…For its acclaimed cast who haven’t been in the spotlight for awhile, its noir-heavy style, its murder mystery plot, and for the fact that it’s the debut feature of a very talented music video director.  But, this is no Se7en or Zodiac, and Grant Singer is far from being David Fincher.  However, he does show great potential, and you can see glimpses of it in this film.  I just wish he had a completely different screenplay to work from here.  And hey, David Fincher did start off his feature filmmaking career with Alien 3… so, I think there’s still hope for Singer yet.  

Reptile is Streaming Now on Netflix.

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