It’s been a couple of years since Will Smith and his mopey kid (along with eternal suck director M. Night Shyamalan) inflicted After Earth upon us. Will Smith has to eat, so it stands to reason he’d make movies again, even if his once adoring public is a little gun shy of his offerings at this point.
Focus is a relatively small movie for the Smith mega machine, a semi-standard conman movie that allows Smith to use his wisecracker persona. It’s a movie that does a good job making him likeable again, even if he’s playing a lying scumbag.
Nicky (Smith) is enjoying a fine meal at his hotel one night when Jess (Margot Robbie, who must be the hottest girl on God’s green Earth—and all of the arctic and desert parts, too) sits at his table.
This starts a movie-long relationship between the conman and the conwoman wannabe. Nicky co-runs a thievery ring that specializes in a lot of little scams and robberies, claiming that the smaller stuff all adds up. Jess, his trainee with a perfect touch when it comes to lifting watches, craves the “big sting.” Nicky wants nothing to do with that.
Or does he?
The first half of the movie is actually quite good, as we see Nicky showing Jess the ropes and battling with an urge to gamble. His gambling addiction leads to a high stakes game of WTF? as Nicky squares off with a cigar chomping B.D. Wong at a football game. Wong’s character overhears Nicky and Jess doing some small bets regarding the game, and wants in. Needless to say, the stakes go very high.
The second half of the film goes a little off course as Nicky goes to work for racecar mogul Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro) involving some sort of speed-reducing scheme. Gerald McRaney shows up as a grouchy bodyguard during this portion of the film, and he helps to elevate it over the material.
The scams in this film, even the simple pickpocket stuff, are all outrageous to the point of implausibility. It also doesn’t help that it’s established early on that Smith’s character is a selfish liar, so every big reveal isn’t all that surprising or clever. He’s clearly bullshitting all of the time. Still, the scams do manage to be somewhat fun to watch at times, even if they are a bit too nutty to take seriously.
The main reason to see the movie would be Robbie, who is just taking movies by storm. She absolutely stunned in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, and while this film isn’t half that movie, she’s atomically good. Robbie is lined up to play Harley Quinn in the upcoming Suicide Squad (alongside Smith and Jared Leto) and, at just 24 years old, she stands as one of the more interesting up-and-comers in Hollywood.
Will Smith is a solid second best reason to see Focus. His role allows for that humorous, fast-talking side so absent from the likes of After Earth and Seven Pounds. (He did have a funny cameo in Anchorman 2 and Men in Black 3 was OK). His recent stinkers had me almost forgetting that I usually like his movies. It’s good to see him back in decent form.
The film is co-directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the team responsible for Crazy, Stupid, Love. and the vastly underrated Jim Carrey vehicle I Love You Phillip Morris. In some ways, Focus is their least engaging venture yet, which says a lot for their abilities because it’s still good. Next up for them would be the wartime comedy Fun House starring none other than Robbie.
As a conman movie, this one falls way short of films like The Sting, but is much better than crap like Now You See Me. As for Will Smith films, it also falls somewhere in the middle. As for Robbie, well, just see it for the watch-robbing Robbie. She steals the movie, lifting that sucker right off of Will Smith’s unsuspecting wrist.