Reptile review – less “whodunit”, more “who cares?”

Review by Charles Bramesco @intothecrevasse

Directed by

Grant Singer


Alicia Silverstone Benicio Del Toro Justin Timberlake


Can a video vet flourish in the big pond of cinema?


A rather routine investigation.

In Retrospect.

Less "whodunit", more "who cares?"

Music video mainstay Grant Singer makes the leap to features with this real estate-based detective thriller, but the results are disappointingly underwhelming.

When a music video director makes the jump to cinematic features, the expectation is that while they may experience some turbulence in adjusting to the demands of narrative, they can be safely counted on to goose the form by carrying over the freer experimentalism of shorts required only to complement a given song. But rather than push boundaries in terms of imagery or editing, Grant Singer’s accompaniments provide little more than Instagram-filtered framing for the persona-first pop stars who’ve rendered his services.

If not for the fleeting presence of Sky Ferreira, there would be nothing in the unremarkable thriller Reptile to suggest any noteworthy background for its director, perfectly at home in the functional point-and-shoot flavorlessness of straight-to-streaming potboilers. Singer aims for the bleak, gritty texture standard to the genre, and winds up closer to the result of an anonymous recommendation generated by the algorithmic tags of “Bleak, Gritty.”

Real estate stiff Will Grady (Justin Timberlake, now one decade out from his last good movie) has been having some intimacy problems with his fiancée and partner, judging by his shrugged-off advances in a house they’re trying to sell, but he’s still horrified to find her mangled corpse there later that day. Did he do it, perhaps at the behest of his haughty, controlling mother (Frances Fisher)? Was it the ex-husband (Karl Glusman) with a haunted look in his eyes suggesting something sinister behind his soft-spoken demeanor? Or was it some seemingly unrelated psychopath (Michael Pitt) glimpsed lurking around the crime scene, his face creepy enough to count as probable cause?

The detective on the job is Tom Nichols (Benicio del Toro, who also coauthored the screenplay), a lifer tender with his understanding wife (Alicia Silverstone), but not so eager to yuk it up with his compatriots at a retirement dinner for their commanding officer (Eric Bogosian). Tom isn’t above juicing his monthly take-home pay with unnecessary overtime, and yet he looks askance at some malfeasance from his fellow boys in blue (especially Domenick Lombardozzi, formerly Herc on The Wire), hinting at past conflict.

In the one ‘surprise’ contained herein, these two strands of Tom’s life — his stumper of a case and the tensions back at HQ — turn out to be connected, though a savvy viewer quickly intuits that Singer wouldn’t be showing us all of this if they weren’t. A minimum of cunning shapes his parceling-out of clues, a thoroughly ordinary investigation that achieves its unaccountable two-hour-plus run time not with a particularly dense mystery or preponderance of red herrings, but by moving from one plot juncture to the next very slowly.

The dirgelike pacing only makes a more tiresome drag out of a naive critique which ultimately boils down to “some cops are bad, so lucky thing we’ve got the good ones to hold them accountable.” And Tom Nichols doesn’t even have much to recommend him for the hall of fame for his archetype, undistinguished without any unique qualities save his muted delight at discovering a touchless, wave-activated faucet head for his kitchen sink.

The materialism of police, a blue-collar profession that earns men with bad interior design sense a white-collar wage, could’ve been a stable peg on which to hang a noir-ish descent into the depravity of greed. Alas, it’s just another day on the job for Tom in what feels like it should be the fourth or fifth sequel to a less tedious introduction for the character, as if losing steam it never had in the first place.

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Published 28 Sep 2023

Tags: Alicia Silverstone Benicio Del Toro Grant Singer Justin Timberlake Reptile


Can a video vet flourish in the big pond of cinema?


A rather routine investigation.

In Retrospect.

Less "whodunit", more "who cares?"

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