There’s a running gag in Reptile, the feature debut from director Grant Singer, which involves Benicio Del Toro’s character and a kitchen faucet. This may sound vaguely out of place—given the film is about corruption, narcotics, and murder—yet it points to a few of the odd curlicues adorning what could have been a bog standard mystery.
To begin with, it’s worth noting that perhaps nobody is odder than Del Toro, one of our most underrated movie stars. In Reptile he plays Tom Nichols, a homicide detective in Maine tasked with solving the killing of a young woman. As befits the best whodunnits, everyone is a suspect, including an ex-boyfriend (Karl Glusman), the current beau (a straitlaced yet creepy Justin Timberlake), and a sketchy figure from the past (an unrecognizable Michael Pitt). Known for his music videos, Singer’s knack for striking images transfers well here, even as his film zips through loads of conspiratorial plotting (co-written with Benjamin Brewer and Del Toro). There’s a confidence at work that belies Singer’s rookie status, and thankfully the veteran Del Toro gives it all he’s got as the cop stuck in the middle.
At its worst, Reptile can feel overwrought and rushed, as if it wants to be a more drawn-out miniseries (thank goodness it’s not). When it’s cooking, however, Singer’s film functions as a throwback to the dour noir movies of the 1970s in which the plot often took a backseat to character, and solving the case didn’t necessarily mean everything was made good—except maybe the kitchen sink.