Debuting Friday on Netflix, Reptile delivers an unexpected reunion of Benicio Del Toro and Alicia Silverstone and an ungainly retread of boilerplate from a considerable number of cop thrillers. Padded to a puzzling and sometimes punishing 136 minutes, it’s a distended dirge of digressions and dream sequences that never distract you from the superficiality of its murder plot and its psychological profile. With all due respect to Del Toro and Silverstone’s previous collaboration, Excess Baggage makes more sense as a title here.
Their spark together as a pair is all that distinguishes Reptile, with Silverstone serving as a bit of a spousal sounding board and deputy to Del Toro’s increasingly troubled detective. Although largely unremarked upon and hardly unreasonable, the 10-year age gap between them establishes the right amount of generational tension for wants and needs. The problem is how little Reptile focuses on that and the deadening effect of its slavish devotion to predictability.
Del Toro deserves some of the blame, credited as a co-writer beside Benjamin Brewer (who led visual effects on Everything Everywhere All At Once) and director Grant Singer (making a jump from music videos to film). It’s the sort of story that has to speak its intended themes aloud because the screenplay has otherwise done such a poor job of conveying them, and Singer offers little in the way of discernible style beyond a lower-energy imitation of Denis Villeneuve’s approach on Prisoners.
Reptile opens with the brutal murder of Summer (Matilda Lutz), a young up-and-comer working in the bustle of suburban Atlanta real estate. Was the killer her fellow-realtor boyfriend (Justin Timberlake), whom we know to have a controlling interest in her business in more ways than one? Perhaps the bitter ex-husband (Karl Glusman of 2022’s Watcher) upset by Summer’s upward mobility without him? Or maybe it’s the stringy-haired malcontent (Michael Pitt) who got scorched on a sale with her firm? Wait! There’s one more suspect: Summer’s jealous friend (Sky Ferreira) on a far lower rung of the social scene.
The cops literally place their bets on all of those suspects, and the arbiter of their wager will be Detective Tom Nichols (Del Toro). Tom has escaped a problematic past on the job in Philadelphia for what he perceives to be an easier amble into eventual retirement. But Summer’s murder stirs up a mess of trouble that eventually upends Tom’s cozy construct.
For a time, Reptile seems primed for a deeper probe into Tom’s makeup that reveals something more than his pen-clicking peccadilloes and his funny fascination with touchless faucets. There’s also a nice complement to that from embedding the story in the world of real estate — staging something of undeniable, but unsustainable, appeal in hopes of making the sale. A boot-scooting raconteur with big-city taste, Tom feels like a fancy fixture in an otherwise average bedroom community he calls home. But like a deal gone bad, Reptile is blown apart upon careful inspection revealing cracks in the foundation. Here, it’s a script that prioritizes circumstance over character. Tom’s odyssey into betrayal and action feels rooted more in other, better films about cops rather than any recognizable human foibles or concerns created here.
Thus, Reptile requires viewers to watch Tom run down conclusive proof of what we have correctly suspected for the previous hour — often accompanied by the zone-out drone of a score by Yair Elazar Glotman with vocals by ARCA. Outside of a sly audible punchline centered around that faucet fascination, their sounds are often one ostentatious ostinato after another. Plus, as good as the paired casting is for Del Toro and Silverstone, it is largely terrible everywhere else — wasting fine performers on futile attempts to fool viewers as they’re clearly not the conventional stereotypes they seem to be. All of this culminates in a dopey instance of edgelord blood spatter on the camera and a moment that can best be called deus ex frisbee that’s so visually overdramatized it becomes one of 2023’s most unintentionally hilarious jokes.
There are many such dopey harbingers of danger in Reptile. Another is a purportedly intense conversation concerning the lyrics to Dr. Dre’s “What’s the Difference.” In a paraphrasing spirit, what’s the difference between Reptile and umpteen other cop thrillers? It talks a good one but doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do.