Some Charm, Little Brain in ‘Focus’

2015_Focus_film_posterThere used to be a time when Will Smith was the most bankable movie star in Hollywood. Nicolas Cage also used to compete for Oscars instead of Razzies, so as Bob Dylan once wrote: the times they are a-changing.

Smith stars in “Focus”, a movie all about small-time criminals pulling cons—until it’s not. Margot Robbie, best known from “Wolf of Wall Street”, co-stars as a young and enthusiastic rookie who Smith takes under his wing and teaches the tools of the trade. “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa write and direct here.

“Focus” really is a tale of two movies. The first half features some clever banter, and is all about pulling cons in New Orleans, all leading up to a somewhat well executed, tension-filled climax at the Super Bowl. (Quick side note: the game is never called the Super Bowl because the NFL is lame; it’s just “the game”. Also, a team from Miami is playing, which even for a fictional football universe seems pretty hard to buy.) Once Will Smith and Margot Robbie leave New Orleans and go their separate ways, all the fun seems to go with them.

The second half of film takes place three years later in Buenos Aires (because, sure?), and it just doesn’t have the same shine as the first 50 minutes. There are no real cons, but instead it is replaced with Will Smith trying his best to charm the pants off of Robbie (figuratively and literally).

Smith is still as charismatic and likable as ever, but in “Focus” that can only carry the film so far. We don’t learn much about his character other than people generally don’t like him, he has daddy issues, and for one scene he apparently has a gambling addiction.

Smith does have some chemistry with Robbie, but at other times their interactions feel forced and unnatural. Robbie shows that she is an actress that we’ll be seeing more of, and I’m fine with that, but there really isn’t much development to her character. When we meet her she is just a small-timer stealing watches, and by the end of the film it isn’t really clear if she is truly anything different (but hey, the movie made sure that we get that background story that she “always had to look out for herself”, so it makes up for it, right?).

There are some fun twists, then there are some completely unbelievable ones, and there are some small plot holes, then there are ones big enough to drive an 18-wheeler through. The best thing I can compare it to is “Now You See Me” (if you can remember that thing): if when the dust settles you can buy all the twists, then you’ll enjoy the final payoff. If you need some sense and plausibility with your films, then maybe “Focus” isn’t for you.

Two likable leads and some colorful locations do not make a great movie, but they certainly help to elevate an otherwise average one. “Focus” isn’t Smith’s most tedious movie, and it’s nowhere near the worst film of 2015 (“50 Shades” will likely hold that title for a while), but it just isn’t as much fun as it should be.

Critics Rating: 5/10

Variety

Variety