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Focus

Loaded with two charming leads, this movie doesn’t quite pull off its con

Will Smith stars as Nicky, a seasoned master of misdirection who becomes romantically involved with novice con artist Jess (Margot Robbie). When she gets too close, he breaks it off. Three years later, the former flame — now an accomplished femme fatale — shows up in Buenos Aires, throwing a wrench in his latest scam … and the consummate con man off his game. <<© Zaftig Films >>

Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith: After Earth) has a charming smile and a light touch. He’s adept at cons from lifting wallets to convincing investors that an empty warehouse is the Federal Reserve. A third-generation conman, Nicky has managed to stay successful in the game by staying isolated.
    When he meets Jess (Margot Robbie: The Wolf of Wall Street), a beautiful con clumsily targeting horny men, he sees potential. Jess becomes his student in the true art of the hustle.
    Soon his able pupil can emerge from crowded streets laden with wallets, watches and jewels. When their professional relationship turns romantic, Nicky panics. Explaining that love is dangerous in their business, he tosses Jess a pile of cash and takes off.
    Three years later, Nicky is working a scam on a billionaire racing magnate when he spots Jess. His deft touch fails. Distracted and lovesick, Nicky tries for both Jess and the money. His dangerous play could cost him his life and the girl.
    If Focus were a conman, it wouldn’t be a very good one. In a movie about misdirection and distraction, plot is convoluted and the numerous twists are telegraphed obviously by writer/directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid, Love). Experienced moviegoers will pick out twists long before they’re revealed. Watch for shots that last longer than they should.
    Nor does the film offer tension or propose stakes. The pair never seems in real danger, even when a gun is pointed at their heads. Nicky seemingly never makes a misstep, which creates a sense of invulnerability. Since Nicky is infallible, there’s no need to worry about him; everything must be part of his plan.
    Though the plot fizzles, the herculean efforts of the stars keep Focus watchable. Up and coming Robbie sparkles as Jess, who she makes an eager student who thrills at every watch she slips off her marks. Her enthusiasm and charm are beguiling, and she is susceptible to panic, which makes her interesting.
    As the man who has a plan, Smith’s Nicky is smooth to a fault. Smith fails to give Nicky vulnerability, but he succeeds in reclaiming his shine as a movie star. He’s slick, cool and exceptionally likeable as he hustles through the movie. Focus is an effective reminder of why Smith became one of the biggest stars of the screen, standing he lost in the wake of After Earth and Men in Black III.
    The stars work well together, too, and we fall for the way they play off each other.
    Focus isn’t a good crime film, but it’s an enjoyable romantic comedy. Buy a ticket for Smith and Robbie’s sexy banter. But don’t let them near your wallets.

Fair Romantic Comedy • R • 105 mins.