There is a faux-weightiness to “Reptile,” from its bombastic score to unexpectedly swooping camera moves that speak as much to Singer’s background as a music-video director as to the misplaced sense that this story is much bigger and grander than it truly is. Del Toro is unquestionably the best part of the film, not just because he’s so omnipresent throughout much of the proceedings, but because his naturally off-kilter performance style lends itself well to a character whose background seems deliberately enigmatic, and who gets plagued by mild paranoia at home and at work. But the rest of the cast is similarly overqualified for the material, from Eric Bogosian as Judy’s uncle/the local police captain to Silverstone to Ato Essandoh as Nichols’ partner. Timberlake is somewhat overmatched by the twists and turns inherent in his character; it doesn’t help matters when Singer’s grandiloquent style only serves to heighten the awkward performance, as when Will angrily shouts at two lookie-loos of his girlfriend’s murder scene and the camera zooms in close to his face.
The imbalance of tones is what makes “Reptile” hard to square. The murder, as well as the eventual and very convoluted reveal of what inspired the crime, is as grim as the bleak setting of the film, a suburbia with overgrown plants and weeds everywhere. But the sides of this story, from Tom and Judy’s passion for square-dancing (because who doesn’t want the reunion of the stars of the 1997 film “Excess Baggage” to include allemandes left and right) to Tom’s dream of a nicer kitchen, feel carted in from a different story. Allowing gallows humor into a dark crime procedural is both expected and welcome, but the way this film tries to add in its own unique and quirky personality would only fit if the crime was less disturbing or the criminals less obvious and gruff. (To the point about it being obvious, it becomes nakedly so who’s involved about halfway through, but Nichols takes a lot longer to arrive at that conclusion.)
“Reptile,” aside from having an inexplicable title, has a few redeeming qualities. We don’t need further proof at this point that Benicio del Toro deserves his Academy Award, but “Reptile” certainly serves as a reminder that he’s an immensely gifted performer. Grant Singer as a director has some promise, even if some of the flash and style he brings only works against the story he’s telling. But his script is less self-assured. Where “Prisoners,” for example, rose above feeling like an expanded “Law and Order”-style TV drama thanks to the flair of director Denis Villeneuve, “Reptile” rarely ever lifts off the ground as anything more than just an overstuffed crime drama. But yes, it’s true: the kitchens do look nice here.
/Film Rating: 5 out of 10