My Cat Persephone Wrote this Review on her Smartphone. It was better than Mine. .
The best thing you can say about Will Smith’s new by-the-numbers con film Focus is that it’s not After Earth 2. It’s a minor step forward for the superstar in at least he’s not weighed down by the baggage of his less talented son or being in a film that doesn’t have the words “Directed by M. Night Shyamalan” anywhere in the credits.
The focus of Focus’ ultimate failure does not fall on Smith, as he is more than game to play a suave con man who may or may not be letting his emotions get the better of him, but on the almost generic script by writer/directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (who wrote/directed Ryan Gosling’s abs and Emma Stone’s charm in the far superior Crazy Stupid Love). Anybody who’s actually fooled by anything that happens in this movie has more than likely never seen The Sting, any David Mamet movie, Trading Pants, Duplicity, Confidence, or Ridley Scott’s excellent Matchstick Men.
If you’ve seen more than one grift film (including the exceptional The Grifters), you are more than familiar with the ebbs and flows of what’s going to happen on an almost scene-by-scene basis: the seemingly innocuous characters you ultimately can’t trust, the con within the con within the con within the con, the double-crosses, the triple-crosses, the incest (sorry, that was Game of Thrones). You get the idea.
Focus coasts by on the charm of its leads, but even that can’t sustain the film enough for a gratifying movie going experience.
The film opens with Nicky (Will Smith) meet-cuting with Jess (Suicide Squad’s Margot Robbie) in fancy restaurant as she tries to get away from a pushy guy hitting on her. It’s clear Jess is trying to dupe him into something but she’s nowhere near where she needs to be to get the upper hand on a seasoned pro like Nicky.
He reads her scheme early on and sees her potential as a future con artist. He also senses sparks between them but as the cliché goes, he can’t let his feelings distract him away from the job. Still, she wants to be his “intern”, and Nicky knows the value of having a beautiful woman in (im)proper attire (“You won’t be looking at her hands“) as a distraction.
Using an expertly cut training montage, Jess shows her worth as a swindler.
It turns out that Nicky is in fact the head of an entire network of thieves and Jess’ ascendance into the ranks is fortuitous because it happens to be Super Bowl Weekend, and there will be thousands upon thousands of easy victims just waiting to have their money and valuables stolen.
You can tell the production didn’t have the NFL’s permission to use the term “Super Bowl” even though everyone knows what it is because the teams playing in the fake Super Bowl are the “Sharks” and the “Threshers”. Little did they know that (left) sharks would actually play a major role in this year’s actual Super Bowl.
Anyway, during the fake Super Bowl weekend. Jess and Nicky Minaj, um, manage to have sex because they are two very attractive movie stars and their sex scene probably tested better than the sex scene Nicky has with his portly male sidekick.
Aside from the sex, Nicky gets millions of dollars for the crew. Everybody wins.
But it seems that Nicky has been letting his feelings for Jess get in the way, which as everyone who has seen these types of movies before knows, it’s a definite no-no. In a fit of conscience, Nicky gives Jess her cut and essentially leaves her at the airport.
Jess is devastated. Richer, but still devastated.
A title card reads “Three Years Later.” DJ Jazzy Jeff is at a crosswalk with a “Will DJ for food” sign. He has no idea what “EDM” stands for.
Nicky has just been hired for a swindle by a Spanish guy (300’s Rodrigo Santoro) involving a race car and something else MacGuffin-y. And wouldn’t you know it? The Spanish guy’s girlfriend just happens to be…Jess.
It’s probably a coincidence that 3 years later they would just happen to meet again like this.
Or is it?
What works with Focus
- There is genuine chemistry between Will Smith and Margot Robbie and it’s their spark onscreen that, for most of the movie, makes you lose focus that the story you’re watching is actually pretty mediocre. It’s a tribute to how far we’ve come as a society that you can have a sex scene between a white girl and an Oreo and nobody bats an eye.
- No Jaden Smith. This is a positive in any film.
- A sequence involving a series of impromptu bets during the fake Super Bowl shows us the allure and the thrill these types of movies when they work. It’s a perfectly executed sequence that Focus should’ve had more of. Regrettably, it’s a high point that occurs with about an hour of screen time left.
What Doesn’t Work With Focus
- Focus would have been a perfectly passable exercise in style, a reasonable enough piece of forgettable entertainment had the ending not failed so miserably. As mentioned before, going into the movie, you know to expect twists that may change your perception of what happened before. Focus’ ending feels pulled out of someone’s anus, as it’s barely plausible and considerably less-than-gratifying.
For a good portion of its running time, Focus cons you into believing it’s a decent movie. In the end, it’s the audience that ultimately gets ripped off.