Reptile review: Netflix crime drama's chief problem is it's boring

Crime drama slithers but never bites

Benicio Del Toro and Alicia Silverstone in Reptile
(Image: © Daniel McFadden/Netflix)

What to Watch Verdict

Reptile, from its score to its performances, is all mood and little else.


  • +

    Effectively strikes a dark and grim tone


  • -

    Two hours long and feels it

  • -

    Lack of action or significant character development

Benicio Del Toro is well-versed in the dark crime drama, as the actor won an Oscar for his performance in Steven Soderbergh's Traffic and should have been nominated for another from his work in Sicario. He brings that experience to Reptile, which he co-wrote with director Grant Singer and Benjamin Brewer, but can't replicate what worked with those earlier movies.

Reptile is a competently made crime drama. It sets out its dark and sparse tone and sticks with it, emphasized by an icy score and a reserved Del Toro performance. However, there isn't all that much underneath those surface qualities, as the movie drags to an underwhelming conclusion.

In Reptile, Del Toro plays homicide detective Tom Nichols, who is put in charge of the murder of a realtor found dead in a house that she was showing. There are three prime suspects: her boyfriend Will Grady (Justin Timberlake), her ex-husband Sam (Karl Glusman) and a suspicious lurker with a past, Eli Phillips (Michael Pitt). However, the more that Tom digs into the case, he finds that few things are as they seem.

The chief problem with Reptile is that it's boring. The case they're working does not require a whole lot of action, which is fine, but with a two hour-plus runtime, it would have been nice if I felt my pulse start to race at least once. Also, an hour in you feel like the story should almost be coming to an end, only to realize that the real story of the movie is just beginning and will continue at its methodical pace for another hour. It definitely feels like a tighter version may have made things a bit more engaging.

Taking time to lay out all the important info can be fine if there's interesting character development going on in the story, but that's not the case here. We don't get to know any of the suspects or side characters enough to be interested in them. That leaves Del Toro's detective, who we get bits and pieces about, but not enough to really understand his arc or root for him beyond his dogged pursuit to get to the bottom of things. 

That said, Del Toro can play this kind of role in his sleep and nails the grizzled temperament of his detective. Also worth giving a shout out to Alicia Silverstone, who is solid as Del Toro's strong and capable wife, and Michael Pitts in an unrecognizable performance (part of it may have been the greasy locks, but it's a solid turn beyond the look). Timberlake is a bit disappointing, with his natural charisma locked away; it makes sense for the character, but he feels like an odd casting choice.

Reptile served as Grant Singer's feature directorial debut, coming previously from the world of music videos. While the movie's look and tone fits what you'd want with a cold crime drama, Singer isn't able to elevate an average script to reach a higher potential. At the end of the day, it's a solid first effort, but perhaps just a bit more than he was ready to take on.

Though Reptile received a limited run in movie theaters, it is a Netflix original movie and it feels like it — a movie that may very well find a niche group of fans on the streaming service, but feels like it would have sunk if it had to rely entirely on drawing people into the movie theater.

Reptile released in select movie theaters on September 22. It premieres on Netflix on September 29.

Michael Balderston

Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca, Moulin Rouge!, Silence of the Lambs, Children of Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars. On the TV side he enjoys Only Murders in the Building, Yellowstone, The Boys, Game of Thrones and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun. Follow on Letterboxd.