Netflix’s Reptile is an unusual but entertaining thriller that offers Benicio del Toro a terrifically quirky hero to play.
PLOT: A detective (Benicio del Toro) living in New England with his wife (Alicia Silverstone) investigates the gruesome death of a local real estate magnate’s (Justin Timberlake) wife.
REVIEW: There’s a version of Reptile that could have been a standard cop noir. After all, how many movies have we seen about a rumpled detective investigating a murder that implicates a well-connected family? Yet, director Grant Singer seems less interested in making the straight-laced neo-noir this could have been and instead turns this into a quirky, darkly comedic riff on the genre that almost functions as a spoof at times. After all, a movie that uses Bob Dylan’s ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door” for a gunfight can’t expect us to take it entirely seriously.
Reptile is a weird but wonderful surprise. The odd vibe will turn some off, and it took me about thirty minutes to finally give up and allow myself to enjoy the madness. Singer, who makes his feature debut (he also co-wrote the movie), seems to have a whole raft of inspirations, ranging from David Fincher to Sam Peckinpah to Werner Herzog, with a liberal dose of camp ladled in to give us the strangest cop movie since Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.
It offers Benicio del Toro a terrific showcase, with him subverting all the expectations of your typical cop movie hero. Most cops in these things are loners, but here, he’s a popular member of the force and the life of every party. He and his upbeat wife (played by a terrific Alicia Silverstone) fit right into the New England cop community, with her uncle, played by a cast against-type Eric Bogosian, as his beloved captain. They like to square dance so much that the rest of the department calls him “Oklahoma.” Del Toro’s character sports an earring and dresses like a gangster, with his loud suits and leather jacket, and seems more interested in the designer kitchen he finds at the crime scene than in solving a murder. All of this is a facade, of course, as he turns out to be incorruptible, and over the lengthy but still fast-moving 142-minute run time, the movie’s genre changes from potboiler to neo-noir to all-out action thriller and still manages to work. Well, it works as long as you don’t mind that the movie is constantly winking at you whenever there’s a cliche, right down to the deliberately obvious song selections on the soundtrack.
In many ways, the movie seems less interested in the mystery than examining the cop community del Toro’s character finds himself a part of, with them mostly all family men in happy marriages and living comfortably in their idyllic town. That it all comes crashing down is a given, but you won’t mind the movie taking its time. If the film has a failing, it’s that the red herrings, such as Justin Timberlake’s real estate guy and Michael Pitt’s scuzzy witness, are never as interesting as the cops, who include The Wire’s Domenick Lombardozzi and an amusing Ato Essandoh as the deadpan new guy. It’s also fun to see del Toro and Silverstone reteam more than a quarter century after Excess Baggage with their top-notch chemistry. It’s nice to see her in such a prominent role again, and she gets some scenery to chew.
One thing is sure – Reptile could have only ever been made at Netflix. Any studio would have had them significantly reduce the quirkiness (and the running time) to the point that it would have been a routine thriller. Currently, it subverts, plays with, and rewards audience expectations. Those who want a straight-laced meat-and-potatoes cop movie won’t like it. Still, if you like stranger cop fare like the underrated Miami Blues or the aforementioned Port of Call New Orleans, you might find this a very entertaining watch.
Reptile is now playing in limited release and hits Netflix on October 6th.