Will Smith and arresting newcomer Margot Robbie (“The Wolf of Wall Street”) star as two con artists in “Focus.” Directed by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (“Crazy Stupid Love”), “Focus” is about an experienced and charming con artist (Smith) as he takes on an attractive neophyte (Robbie) in the business of the con. The story twists and turns as the duo run into serious trouble and as Smith’s character Nicky becomes too attached to his mentee. The serious problems I have with the movie are with the acting, story/writing, and the overall execution. Let’s start with acting. Will Smith is supposed to be a good actor. Everyone knows this. He even plays a smooth talking conman- how he can possibly mess up a character so perfectly designed for him baffles me. However, this could be part of the problem. This role is something so easy for Smith that the result is a performance that is both generic and lazy. Nicky is literally a character that can be summed up in a sentence (more likely the writings fault than Smith’s himself) and Smith adds no distinctive flair to the acting to set the character apart. Smith plays the role superficially and consequently we get a character with almost zero depth. Critics have been more sympathetic to Robbie though- who was still a million times better as a corrupt banker’s second wife. She sort of just uses her attractiveness to meet her ends in the film and that is about it. Playing a character named Jess, she simply hangs around Nicky and falls in love with him, and the rest of the time she acts as eye candy. She spends most of the movie in the dark about what con is happening in the film- insulting considering even the audience has figured it out. A good chunk of the humor also rests solely on her being attractive or her being present in the scene saying something generic like “I’m right here!?.” And if that didn’t sound funny then you are right- it wasn’t. Perhaps praise has been more favorable toward Robbie because of the fact that she is a newcomer. I do not buy it because we have seen her much better than this in a previous role. Her acting is at best equal to Smith’s here and that is something that this movie does not have going for it. The writing does the film no favors. The pacing is awful and the way it jumps from place to place takes the viewer out of it. Dialogue offers nothing new or insightful- in fact- you can almost predict exactly what words are supposed to follow. It is the kind of movie that says cheesy things that an SNL skit would make fun of when making fun of con movies. “Attention is like a spotlight and it is our job to dance in the darkness.” Give me a break. Lastly, the plot twists make no sense with each other. I do not want to spoil anything, but a good chunk of the comedy and drama of the movie rests with one plot point which would make no sense given another twist in the movie. In fact, most of the film wouldn’t even make sense given certain plot twists- leaving the viewer puzzled at why they had to watch any of it in the first place.
However, I do not expect much from an early in the year release anyhow. I wasn’t expecting Oscar quality writing but this is why the final crime the movie commits is the worst one- its execution. This is the classic case of a movie not knowing what it wants to be. “Focus” lacks focus because of the fact that it has no idea what type of movie it wants to be. I think this movie could’ve gone in one of two directions. It could’ve chosen to be something higher-brow- a slickly directed well-written, solidly acted crime thriller which could be a force to rally with in the award season. However, I think the movie would’ve needed to fire a good portion of the people they had on board to make this happen. The second option (which is what I was hoping for) would’ve been something crazy fun. The movies that do well in this season should go for this option.
If “Focus” went for outrageous heists or grand long cons then this could’ve been a lot of fun. It was already a superficially glossy movie that was great to look at. All it needed was the plot to match it. Instead of all of this fun that the movie could’ve had it opted for a climax more suitable for “American Hustle” instead of “Ocean’s Eleven.” In the end, you get a movie that does not know what it wants and ends up pleasing no one. “Focus” naturally opened up to tepid reviews because the most anyone can do after watching this movie is smirk and say “that wasn’t so bad.” What could’ve been a fun time exploring our more criminal ambitions is instead criminally boring. This is the biggest crime that “Focus” commits. “Focus” looks great on the surface, but that is about the only compliment I can pay it. Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 55% | Personal Rating: 2/10| Meta Ranking: 39/100
5/10 Critic Rating (RT)
6/10 Audience Rating (RT)