Reptile

Benicio Del Toro slinks and weaves his way through Grant Singer’s first thriller, “Reptile,” but the picture struggles to establish a strong identity around him and ultimately falls apart. The music video veteran Singer, who has worked with artists like The Weeknd, Skrillex, Sam Smith, and others, is clearly influenced by David Fincher’s meticulousness. “Reptile” is overly polite and precious with its details, but its biggest error is its failure to comprehend that procedurals need to get narratively tighter and not just more complicated. Although Del Toro typically delivers, and this is one of his more intriguing performances in a while, one frequently wonders that it had been in a movie that knew what to do with it.

Scarborough real estate tycoon Will Grady (Justin Timberlake) is dating an agent named Summer (Matilda Lutz). Under the careful eye of Will’s mother Camille (Frances Fisher), they flip foreclosures on expensive properties in the neighborhood, but there seems to be some simmering tension between them. One day, Will runs into Summer at a home she’s showing and discovers her brutally killed.

For Detective Tom Nichols (Del Toro) and his partner Dan Cleary (Ato Essandoh), the suspects line up quickly. First off, Timberlake leans entirely too heavily into the slimy silver spoon kid background of the type of guy who lines up a new girlfriend that resembles his deceased one very instantly. Grady could not be creepier.

Will obviously engages in questionable behavior, but he discovered the body, right? …or did he? Could that be Sam, Summer’s upcoming ex-husband (Karl Glusman)? A stranger’s hair is being cut for him to use as art, and he is depicted as being short a few cards of a full deck when first seen on surveillance camera. He is strange, yes. Nothing like that! Eli Phillips (Michael Pitt), a guy whose dad got taken advantage of on a Grady transaction, is another one of the horde of creeps on the suspect list. Has he killed Summer in retaliation?

She approaches the mystery with intellectual vigor and courage. She is acquainted with and devoted to Tom’s boss Captain Robert Allen (Eric Bogosian), who is shown to have MS. Yes, this is one of those scripts that tries to veer slightly to the left of the norm by giving each character an instantly recognisable trait. Everything is overwritten and overblown, which only serves to serve as a constant reminder that you are watching a movie.

Naturally, it’s important to be conscious of a writer’s voice and a director’s eye—nobody would claim someone like Fincher quietly observes—but “Reptile’s” issues are a result of style vs. vision. There is a lot of flair present here, but it never seems to gel into a coherent picture.

The talented Mike Gioulakis (“It Follows,” “Split”) moves his camera through these intimidating areas, but why? Does it have any significance? As “Reptile” progresses over the course of its too long 134 minutes, its rich style becomes more and more hollow. Subplots are left unsolved, and characters are inconsistent because “Reptile” tries to grasp onto too many things at once yet fails to do so.

And yet, there is that performance in the middle. Del Toro does a fantastic job of portraying a man who has seen it all and who only seeks a serenity that will never materialize. He doesn’t play up his pain or experience; rather, he merely lets those things affect his body language and the unmistakable looks in his eyes.

It can also be humorous at times as Tom incorporates aspects of his real estate career into the remodeling of his home. Silverstone, Bogosian, and Pitt all make good turns in the ensemble, but Del Toro is in a league of his own and performs at a higher level. A scene that would fit much better in another film.

This review was written while attending the Toronto International Film Festival’s world premiere in 2023. On October 6, “Reptile” will be available on Netflix.

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