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If you’re on the other side of Benicio Del Toro as a cop in a movie, you should probably start saying some prayers. But if you’re on the other side of the screen watching Benicio Del Toro as a cop in a movie, as you would be if you fire up Netflix original Reptile, then you’re probably in for something gripping. You don’t have to know the other similar characters he’s played to the one here to understand the movie, but it certainly adds to the sense of terror and dread that pervades the film.
REPTILE: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: There’s something off from the start about the murder of the realtor Summer Elswick (Matilda Lutz) that sets off alarm bells in the head of Detective Tom Nichols (Benicio Del Toro) as he begins trying to identify the culprit. The initial obvious suspect, a long-term lover Will (Justin Timberlake) whom she’s taken since separating from her husband Sam (Karl Glusman), gets initially cleared. Each successive discovery in the case points him less toward a single person behind the death and more in the direction of a wider network of shady, connected interests. Real estate seems tied up with fishy investments, which then extend to the drug trade, and finally into the security apparatus. That’s both a private group and the police themselves … which hits especially close to home given that Tom’s wife Judy (Alicia Silverstone) is the niece of the chief, Allen (Eric Bogosian).
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: With the muted color palette and general ambiance of creeping dread, Reptile gives off the energy of a David Fincher (Se7en, Zodiac) or Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario) film.
Performance Worth Watching: Benicio Del Toro in his morally ambiguous law enforcement figure bag — think Traffic and, again, Sicario — is never anything short of riveting to watch. No wonder he keeps getting cast in roles like this. He makes them exciting each and every time.
Memorable Dialogue: “I don’t have to be redeemed,” Tom matter-of-factly tells a suspect in the case. “Do you understand?” It’s a chilling statement that shows while he’s not sure of much going around him, Tom is sure of his own rectitude.
Sex and Skin: The only skin you’re seeing here is one shed by a snake that Summer finds ominously right before her murder.
Our Take: Reptile is ultimately a very boilerplate police procedural movie, but that doesn’t mean you won’t feel the heat at various points. Something about the idea clearly resonated with Benicio Del Toro, who not only stars in the film but also receives his first feature writing credit for it. Tom’s character journey is always interesting as he tries to sort through the miasma of corruption pervading his small New England town. But surely there’s a way to get that across in much less than 2 hours and 15 minutes, which is really stretching just how much this story can sustain — even with a wide ensemble of characters. It’s not necessarily an impossible plot to crack, especially given how it ultimately throws up its hands in favor of a somewhat unearned fatalism about everyone’s interconnected guilt.
Nonetheless, this a promising first feature for director Grant Singer, a prominent music video director making the jump over to narrative. Perhaps there’s just a bit of overcorrection from the faster-paced, rhythmic cutting of the music video form to this languid police thriller.
Our Call: SKIP IT. You’re better off rewatching one of the movies Grant Singer is aping with Reptile. Like the snake of its title, it slithers ominously enough to send some shivers up the spine. But it’s also a bit too slow and deliberate for its own good, even if its venomous bite can draw some blood.
Marshall Shaffer is a New York-based freelance film journalist. In addition to Decider, his work has also appeared on Slashfilm, Slant, The Playlist and many other outlets. Some day soon, everyone will realize how right he is about Spring Breakers.