Benicio Del Toro holds a movie frame like few in his profession. There’s an invitation to the viewer to take in all his facets — the piercing eyes from a cracked-pottery face, the hulking frame, the weary, coiled delivery — but in that allure lies a confidence that you won’t get everything, and that’s exciting too. He can ace the scene’s needs and convey there’s still more to discover, just you wait.

That’s the kind of actor you want in a crime story, or really any story that hinges on the tense and unresolved, on the things bad people want hidden. And “Reptile,” a studiously atmospheric, layer-peeling mystery from director and co-writer Grant Singer, foregrounds Del Toro — playing a calloused detective investigating a young woman’s murder — in a way that makes you want more of him. 

But also, regrettably, less of movies like “Reptile,” which tries to match its star’s unpredictable magnetism with a forced eeriness, only growing more ponderous and unfocused, like a case getting colder.

Before Del Toro’s lawman Tom Nichols enters the picture, we’re treated to a prologue of scenes (à la the elliptical openings of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent”) in which smarmy real estate agent Will Grady (Justin Timberlake) preps a house, gives a seminar and generally looks shady until, after getting called out to one of his for-sale properties, he happens upon the mutilated body of his colleague and girlfriend, Summer (Matilda Lutz).

As lead investigator, Tom, with loyal partner Dan (Ato Essandoh), chase down leads: a stringy-haired, malevolent figure roaming the periphery (Michael Carmen Pitt), the victim’s shifty ex (Karl Glusman), curious business dealings in the outfit Will runs with his mother (Frances Fisher). 

Though Tom can be eccentric on the job, he’s observant, rules-driven and upfront, and in his downtime — square dancing and poker nights — clearly cherishes the support of his smart, forthright wife (Alicia Silverstone) and her extended family, which includes colleagues on the force (Eric Bogosian, Domenick Lombardozzi).

That these worlds will eventually collide in deception, revelation and further violence is never in doubt, because Singer’s directorial agenda is to have us questioning the motives of everyone, everywhere, always, whether it helps the story along or not (or even make sense). 

While there’s nothing wrong with a pervasive mood of mistrust — it was a defining feature of the ’70s thriller’s heyday, from “The Conversation” to “The Parallax View” — it’s the sole note here, drifting in variations of unease that feel cribbed from other sources: One moment is Pakula-esque, another like something out of “Fargo,” the next recalling Fincher. Even the dissonant, things-aren’t-right score from Yair Elazar Glotman seems borrowed from a haunted-house movie.

The fallout from all this purposeful gloom isn’t merely that nothing surprises us; even Del Toro’s committed portrayal of a careful man’s gathering disillusionment gets jammed up. (Del Toro also has a screenwriting credit with Singer and Benjamin Brewer.) There’s collateral damage to Silverstone too, whose wonderfully spiky, sexy rapport with Del Toro — reunited after 25 years and “Excess Baggage” — often is treated as paranoia dressing, rather than the building blocks of a character. But at least Silverstone comes across as a figure we’re interested in getting to know. Timberlake, Lombardozzi and Bogosian barely register as anything but cogs in a plot.

That said, Singer’s indifference to coherence doesn’t entirely disabuse a viewer of staying the course. Even a rambling mystery with solid elements — like the proverbial broken clock — strikes the occasional note of worthy tension or insight. 

If “Reptile” were kicking off a brooding television procedural, you might even forgive its stilted apprehension and narrative malaise for the promise of more Del Toro: A pilot episode’s kinks can be worked out, but a star’s a star.

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