If I were doing one sentence reviews I’d go with this:
Focus tries hard but ultimately fails because it is stingless.
Yes, you heard right, and that was… pun intended. The brand new Will Smith con man movie begins, really, with a small con within a minute of starting, and then works its way up the ladder of higher risks and greater rewards. Unfortunately for us – the only people who will be reaping the rewards are the film makers, because they share in ticket sales.
However, opening this film at the end of February should be a big clue about this films’ worthiness. So it is my guess, that the film makers and producers, they too will be short-changed.
I expected some fun – and got some – but far less than I expected. Laugh-out-loud moments were few and far between. I expected to enjoy Will Smith, the erstwhile Fresh Prince. At one time he was the king of blockbusters. When a Will Smith film opened it was either a Memorial Day Weekend (Men in Black 3), a July 4th weekend (Hancock, Independence Day, Men in Black 2, Wild Wild West, and Men in Black), or a Christmas Day (Ali) or Christmas season (The Pursuit of Happyness) opening. He got those dates because he sold tickets, And he sold tickets because he was good. Like money in the bank.
Not this time.
The set up goes like this. Will Smith is called Nicky, and his family tree includes con artists going back at least as far as Nicky’s grandfather. Nicky learned from the best, and it will surprise no one that he is very good at what he does.
Soon enough, Margot Robbie, who wowed everyone in The Wolf of Wall Street, shows up an attaches herself to Nicky. She’s called Jess, and truth be told, she’s a grifter. She even tries one on Nicky, but it goes no where.
He tells her to never drop the con. Die with con. Yeah, she’s really a beauty so he agrees to teach her the ropes from grifting, to organized pickpocket rings – all the way up to big cons. They get along great, leading to a hook-up. They score mightily over a Superbowl weekend in N’awlins. – you know fast hands and the like. However, following that action, a series of bets at the Super Bowl Game, is so far from believability – that you won’t believe it And why would you – two separate guys, one is Nicky and the other is played by B.D. Wong, go to a Super Bowl Game each carrying in excess of a million dollars in cash – in briefcases – and they end up in the same private box in the Superdome? Okay, I will buy that bridge from you.
From our perspective – all those watches, rings, wallets, and credit cards that get lifted was less about fast hands, team work, and distractions than it was about slick movie editing. Anyway the take is over a million two. And there’s a bunch more moolah to be made.
But Nicky is going to pay off Jess and simply dump her. Flash forward three years. Nicky is in Buenos Aires, working on another big con. Isn’t he surprised when you-know-who shows up as the g/f of Nicky’s mark.
We watch as the man behind the curtain does his thing, and you can expect lots of twists and turns. Some of which are believable, and some others – not so much. Half the fun of a con job movie is the reveal. Sadly Focus provides its own spoiler for the big con no more than 10 minutes into the film, so even when it plays out, we aren’t really surprised at all.
But the news isn’t all bad. There’s New Orleans, and Buenos Aires, Great location shots, swanky hotels, and high production values. But the thing of it is, I mean the downsides are:
1) Will Smith is seemingly mailing it in. His dynamic seems soft, as if he’s not all that invested in this film. It is not an electric Will Smith performance – more likely his best elements – his high-wattage star appeal, seems to be running on drug-store batteries. He just doesn’t seem all that involved. His usual high energy is surprisingly ratcheted down.
2) Margot Robbie nearly walks off with the picture, and she would have, but….
3) After a fast-moving first half of the film filled with filthy fast hands – Co-Directors and C0-Screenwriters Glenn Ficarra and John Requa seem to want to sell us on the romance rather than the con. Are they in love? Is Jess conning Nicky? Is Nicky conning Jess?
So the big con, which as you know, depends on us really caring about the characters – hoping for them to come out of it successfully, or maybe just alive – seems watered down. The impact seems weakened or far from what you might call dazzling. And even beyond that – you don’t leave the theater elated or excited.
Focus will likely sell tickets – the hard truth of this con artist film is that the film makers decidedly lost their focus. Two point zero out of five. Rather than giving this film a recommendation – I’ll simply call it disappointing.